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Friday, August 14, 2009

That Old Cape Magic: is Russo Misogynist? (NO!)

Richard Russo's new novel, That Old Cape Magic, is book-ended by a pair of weddings on the New England shore, a disastrous year in protagonist Griffin's life separating the nuptials. The first wedding, a family friend's, takes place on Cape Cod, and Griffin decides to scatter his father's ashes in the ocean after the ceremony. This is where he spent his childhood summers, and he treasured those trips as a respite from his parents' ultimately failed marriage, their constant conflict pausing for an annual seaside truce. Needless to say, fate gets in the way of his neatly-laid plans and a year later, after walking his daughter down the aisle in Maine, Griffin a takes another trip with two urns of ashes in his trunk--to scatter on opposite side of the Cape as his parents would want it-- and a woman who's not his wife sitting beside him. Whether he can pull himself and his family back together is the central question at the end of this wry, wise novel, which is lighter but no less profound than Russo's previous fare.

I found this book sweet and absorbing, and I'm glad it didn't end with a tragic shooting like certain others of his books, although there was some comic minor violence during the climactic wedding scene. It's a great late-summer read.
He's one of the few "serious" authors out there who can actually make me LOL. (Have you ever noticed how hard it is for a novel to make you LOL? It's a real feat.)

And that's why I was so mad recently when there was a mini literary kerfluffle when a Newsweek reporter asked "Is Russo a misognyist?" and then answered herself with a "yes." She cited authors like Philip Roth and John Updike as counter examples of male-oriented storytellers who fall short of sexist. This is kind of mind-blowing example of when the tools of feminist cultural analysis are applied wrongly (feminism FAIL?).

I'll just compare two Pulitzer-winning American Epics to refute her.

In Roth's American Pastoral "the Swede"'s daughter is a heartless fat hippie who ruins her father's life by bombing the local post office to protest Vietnam, while his ingrate beauty queen wife copes with their despair and fall from grace by diddling his best friend or neighbor or some such. Basically, bitches just walk in and step all over this nice guy's hard-fought existence running a glove factory in Newark. AND THAT'S AMERICA.

In Russo's Empire Falls, yes the protagonist Miles's ex-wife is a bitch but she's a comical one--obsessed with fitness, she leaves Miles for a gym owner who can pound her abs into shape. But his daughter Tick is the story's real heroine, a burgeoning feminist who is wise, quirky, lovable and vulnerable. Meanwhile Miles' mother in law takes his side in the divorce and is generally a font of wisdom and hilarity. She runs a bar, for chrissakes. She is awesome. (Then there's a school shooting. AND THAT'S AMERICA.)

So in sum, yeah clearly Philip Roth is great for women and Richard Russo hates them. NOT. What a shocker--Newsweek is giving feminist criticism a bad name. Because the only books that are sexist are the ones that I say are sexist :) The end.


  1. I could not agree more. Russo is definitely NOT a misogynist. Roth? Updike? Only two of the kings of misogyny! Some people! Poor world, poor America!
    I don't read Newsweek. LOL.
    Thanks for the review. I was debating whether to read this latest of Russo's (I loved Empire Falls) and you've tipped me over the edge.
    I read the NYT article on choosing the end-of-summer read and now have an anxiety that hadn't even occurred to me before. Thanks, NYT! Oh, well, now I can read this book and get rid of that anxiety!

  2. Also loved Empire Falls. Looking forward to this one now. :) eh, there's so many splinters of feminism now (hence a lot of feminist FAIL). And of course you decide which is which! That's what makes writing, in part, so grand.