Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday Publishing
Pub. Date: Aug. 9, 2009
I found this 2009 novel by Richard Russo in a used bookstore. I looked forward to reading it since Russo rarely disappoints. However, this time he did—at least for me (for today anyway. I’ll get to that). The title is a spin on the song “That Old Black Magic,” referring to Cape Cod where our protagonist honeymooned and vacationed all his life.
Fans of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author know that his work always has a cast of characters who blunder and struggle through his pages. We do get this in “Magic.” The story revolves around a 60-year-old husband who recently lost his parents. He appears to be having an age-related meltdown while he attends two weddings during the same month. At the weddings, he interacts with both his family and his in-laws leaving him to wonder about his own marriage and his parents’ complicated one.
I needed to look at myself to understand why I did not appreciate this novel more than I did. As always, Russo’s writing is flawless giving the reader insight into what makes his characters tick. As always, there is fun humor to be found in his characters. Embarrassingly, my issue in this tale is probably due to the book’s title and its cover, which shows beach chairs sitting in the sand. This led me to believe I was about to read a beach book. I was looking for something fluffy to read on a lake. Russo is many things but he is never fluffy. Why in the world did I think he would write a beach read? I will reread this one later to see if he will wow me again. I’m guessing it will.
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Genre: Literary Mystery
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date: July 30, 2019
The new novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo is about the complexities of male friendship. This is not a new theme for the author. Here written with his trademark humor, Russo introduces us to three male Vietnam-era college friends who are now in their mid-sixties. They are having a weekend reunion together on Martha’s Vineyard. Think Springsteen’s “Glory Days.” It was there that they had a last-hoorah weekend after graduating from college and going on their separate ways. The difference between the weekends is that in 1970 they also had a female friend with them. All three were in love with her. The book’s title comes from the singer Johnny Mathis: “Chances are cause I wear a silly grin, the moment you come into view…” The girl has now been missing for over 40 years. This reviewer was expecting to read a novel focusing on friendships and growing older. The mystery part surprised me. (I never read the book blurb since I would read anything by Russo).
The novel is told from each of the male characters’ viewpoints. One becomes financially successful, another is broken in multiple ways, and the third still plays in his rock and roll band. Russo’s style is similar to the author Elizabeth Strout in her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “Olive Kitteridge.” Both are stellar at connecting the reader to ordinary people who are living through their wounds as well as their joys. The suspense of the mystery is good, but the ending is a bit of a disappointment. When we learn what happened to the missing girl, the explanation is hard to buy, especially considering the bond between the men. Saying more would be a spoiler. Still, the rich descriptions of Russo’s classic “Empire Falls” can be found in “Chances.” His flawed but decent male characters show us the best of men. Once you finish the book, it hard not to reflect on your own life, especially if you are in your sixties, as I am. The author’s clarity and insight make “Chances” a thought-provoking and page-turning read.
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