Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo narrates the story of a married couple, Jack and Joy Griffin, whose lives have intersected for 30 years. They are once again experiencing “That Old Cape Magic” as they revisit the scene of their honeymoon to attend the wedding of their daughter Laura’s best friend Kelsey.
The story is told from Jack’s point of view. Jack, only child of two college English professors transplanted from the East to a large Midwestern university in Indiana, vacationed with his family on Cape Cod when he was a child. It was their escape from the humdrum life on campus. His parents eventually divorced and remarried. Jack carries his deceased father’s ashes on this most recent visit to the Cape, but he has a tough time letting go of the past. He cannot shake the memories.
Joy and Jack travel in separate cars to the wedding, the first indicator that their lives together are unraveling. Their daughter Laura is distressed by her parents’ situation that ends in a separation. Jack alone must deal with his acidic mother’s terminal illness and suffers mentally because of their estranged relationship. Jobs dry up, and Jack feels like a failure in so many ways.
Flash forward one year – another wedding – his daughter Laura is marrying her sweetheart Andy, and Jack must cope with Joy’s family. Their hostility toward him is thinly masked, and the wedding is almost a disaster after a fiasco at the rehearsal dinner, but the wedding itself is a success.
Russo’s humorous treatment of his serious subject matter is refreshing. He delineates his characters, especially Jack’ mother and Joy’s father, quite clearly and makes them come alive on the pages of the novel. Hilarious incidents reveal the true nature of Joy’s family relationships. We readers see inside a complex character’s thoughts and grow in understanding along with him.
Reviewed by Susie Nightingale