Divided Response to Russo’s Latest

It’s a busy week for big league book critics – on the heels of reviewing Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice, they’re quickly turning to Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic, about a middle-aged college writing professor and screenwriter who struggles to deal with his father’s death, the dissolution of his marriage and the stress of his daughter’s wedding. As the reviews proliferate, libraries are showing widely varying reserves – from 5 to 160 – on anywhere from 5 to 53 copies.

But guess what?  While the guys like it, at least one female critic is skeptical of how Russo treats his women.

In Newsweek, Jennie Yabroff comes right out and asks, Is Richard Russo a Misogynist?, declaring  

“One would expect a writer of such celebrated humanism to treat his female characters with as much compassion as his male ones. But Russo simply doesn’t.  . . . [His] novels and stories contain multitudes, yet only two types of women: perfect bitches and perfect angels. Either way, these women are like smooth, shiny ball bearings, their interiors impenetrable and unknowable. None of them seems at all conflicted about who she is or what she wants.”

However, critic and online chat host Bethanne Patrick of The Book Studio.com disagrees with Yabroff:

“Where she sees foils, I see detailed portraits of women whose lives have been forever changed and sometimes ruined by the actions of men they’ve chosen to love and live with. . . . Where Yabroff sees men simmering with resentment towards women, I see men who can’t live without women and know it – they’re trying mightily to figure out what lack in themselves causes them to need women yet also not treat them on an equal level.”

Meanwhile, The Washington Post‘s Ron Charles calls the book a “dyspeptic romantic comedy” that’s more intimate and written on a smaller canvas than his recent sprawling epics, but which

“makes up for it with psychological nuance about the ties that bind — and snap. It’s a marvelous portrayal of the strands of affection and irritation that run through a family, entangling in-laws and children’s crushes and even old friends.”

The Wall St. Journal interviews Russo, who reveals that he “worked on the novel while he was mourning the death of his mother and marrying off his two daughters. (His marriage of 37 years is doing just fine, he says.)” He’s also working on an HBO pilot about the conflict between failing dairy farmers and people with second homes over the discovery of natural oil deposits in the Catskills and Western Pennsylvania, with a woman as the central character.

That Old Cape Magic
Richard Russo
Retail Price: $25.95
Hardcover: 272 pages
Publisher: Knopf – (2009-08-04)
ISBN / EAN: 0375414967 / 9780375414961

Available from Random House Audio

  •  CD $40; ISBN 9780739318928

Random House Large Print

  • $26; ISBN 9780739328613

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