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2 Burnside Literature- A to Z

That Old Cape Magic


That Old Cape Magic Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. What does Jack Griffin want?

2. In reference to his parents' ongoing but fruitless search for a Cape Cod beach house, Griffin muses, “Perhaps . . . just looking was sufficient in and of itself” (page 9). Is looking enough? Which characters prove or disprove this point of view?

3. One page 16, Griffin points out to his mother that she and his father used to sing “That Old Cape Magic” on the Sagamore Bridge, “as if happiness were a place.” Is it possible for happiness to be a place? Can a place save a relationship?

4. Griffin poses a question to himself: “Why was he more resentful of Harve and Jill, who really wanted to understand how he made his living, than his own parents, who had never, to his knowledge, seen a single film he had anything to do with” (page 49)? Griffin doesn't admit to an answer, but what do you think the answer is?

5. In “The Summer of the Brownings,” young Griffin refuses to spend his last night on the Cape with Peter, even though the decision only serves to hurt everyone. Can you point to other incidents in which Griffin exercises his perverse desire to hurt himself and others?

6. Why is Griffin so apprehensive of commitment? What is he afraid of losing?

7. Griffin notes that “his wife's natural inclination was toward contentment” (page 105). What is Griffin's natural inclination?

8. Is Griffin afraid of being happy? Is being the happy the same as “settling”?

9. How has Griffin's cynicism caused him to misinterpret the intentions of those around him?

10. Why does it take so long for Griffin to dispose of his parents' remains?

11. Why does Griffin feel the need to carry on internal conversations with his mother?

12. How does Griffin's relationship with his parents lead to the dissolution of his marriage to Joy?

13. Why does Griffin insist on staying in L.A., away from Joy?

14. Griffin uneasily considers the parallels between Joy's attachment to himself and Tommy and Laura's attachment to Andy and Sunny. How do these similar triangles play out?

15. This book dances around the concept of responsibility: filial responsibility, marital responsibility, and personal responsibility, to name a few. What do Russo's characters feel about responsibility?

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jdthird, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by jdthird)
Russo is the modern day Steinbeck. The man does not know how to write a poor sentence. I recommend reading every book he has written.
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Product Details

Russo, Richard
Domestic fiction
College teachers
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
9.58x6.52x1.19 in. 1.15 lbs.

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Featured Titles » Morning News Tournament » Tournament of Books 2010
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

That Old Cape Magic Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$5.95 In Stock
Product details 272 pages Knopf Publishing Group - English 9780375414961 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

Fans of Richard Russo's hilarious novel Straight Man will rejoice upon learning that the Pulitzer winner has once again trained his sights on academia. Most of That Old Cape Magic takes place off-campus, however, as Jack Griffin reckons with his parents' failed marriage and the rapidly deteriorating state of his own. No matter, Russo still draws plenty of laughs in this reliably sharp and introspective domestic drama.

"Review" by , "The Griffins may not find magic on old Cape Cod, but readers will. Those who savored Russo's long, languid novels...may be surprised by this one's rapid pace, but Russo's familiar compassion for the vicissitudes of the human condition shines through."
"Review" by , "[A]n impressively expansive analysis of familial dynamics...and his many fans are sure to savor the journey."
"Review" by , "The author's slapstick satire of academia (Straight Man, 1997) previously seemed like an anomaly. Now it has a companion of sorts....Readable, as always with this agreeable and gifted author."
"Review" by , "[Russo] has again worked his magic, rolling up his sleeves for an autumn years study disguised as a breezy summer read....The tone here may be lighter, but...Russo works this behavioral beat better than most literary heavyweights who foolishly believe that they get people."
"Synopsis" by , In this follow-up to Bridge of Sighs, Russo delivers a novel of deep introspection and every family feeling imaginable, with a middle-aged man confronting his parents and their failed marriage, his own troubled one, his daughter's new life and, finally, what it is he thought he wanted and what in fact he has.
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