For a long time, Richard Russo has been a favorite author. I came to him through his hilarious and poignant work of academic fiction, Straight Man, and have enjoyed everything I have read by him since then. Russo writes about families and people whom somehow seem very familiar to me. His main characters are never as good or successful as they would like to be, and the reasons often lie in their own actions, as they do for most of us. But these are people, men and women alike, who never stop trying to be a bit better than they are.
I cannot think of a novel by Russo where the essential human-ness of his characters does not come through clearly. Perhaps it is a sign of age, but I also find myself more and more sympathizing with some of Russo’s characters who are realizing that they may not get to do all that they had hoped in their lives. What makes these people particular special to me though is that they never give up trying. In a world where things can seem pretty bleak at times, reading about folks who have not given up is in itself restorative.
In his most recent novel, That Old Cape Magic, his main character is a writer and professor in his late middle age. The story opens with this writer, Griffin, taking his father’s ashes to scatter on Cape Cod. His unsuccessful venture here reflects Griffin’s inability to shake himself free from the past, a problem that threatens his marriage and his sense of self. Russo moves easily from serious scenes to some outrageous humor. For fans of Straight Man, there is an ample helping of academic satire as Russo uses flashbacks to tell the story of Griffin’s growing up with two professor parents who long to be out of the Midwest university towns where their careers led them. Their summers on the Cape were the high point of Griffin’s parents’ year, and he is trying to recapture some of that magic. Russo is a master of character, and he gets better with each story he tells.
Check the WRL catalog for That Old Cape Magic