That Old Cape Magic

Richard Russo
Vintage; €9.99

SCHOOL’s out for summer and discontented teacher Jack Griffin attends a wedding on “the Cape”. What should be a wistful trip down memory lane turns out to be a reflection on a troubled upbringing.

Things have not quite turned out as he planned and as Jack drives along his mind is plagued by thoughts of his parents – one now dead – and the unhappiness of their marriage. Jack’s parents are frustrated academics who toiled at colleges, always believing they were better than everyone else, who cheated on each other and treated everyone with disdain.

Even now, with his father’s ashes in the boot of the car, Jack cannot escape the memories of his parents’ journeys to Cape Cod, perhaps the only happy times they spent together. Their own plans to retire to the Cape never materialised and for all their supposed intelligence, they are revealed as snobs. Jack’s musings soon include the disappointment of his own life.

The ‘Great Truro Accrdo’, a roadmap for the perfect life which he and his new bride devised on their hope-filled honeymoon, has ended up long forgotten.

Jack sold out, giving up his dream to be a screen writer in favour of a more comfortable and reliable academic position. Tensions with his wife Joy are mounting and their relationship is beginning to mirror that of his own parents with niggling arguments, forgotten promises and unfulfilled potential.

Hope comes in the form of a call from his former agent in LA with the possibility of work. Clinging to the idea of another life – one that he perhaps knows he should have chosen – his reflections lead him to confront marriage, death and other family crises.

Once romantic and idealistic, Jack is now becoming cynical and questions if his disdain for his wife’s suburban parents is motivated by his parents’ snobbish world view, and not his own opinion.

A bittersweet tale and insightful look at the insecurities of middle life.


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