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In opera, they say a tragedy ends with a funeral and a comedy ends with a wedding. Richard Russo’s new novel, “That Old Cape Magic,” declares itself at once: it starts with a wedding, as well, of course, as ending with one. Russo has written six previous novels, among them the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Empire Falls,” and we’ve come to expect certain things: a complicated skein of plotlines, deep connection to place, and affection for the large cast of characters who blunder and struggle through his pages. “That Old Cape Magic” does not disappoint.

The book opens with Jack Griffin, a writer nearing 60, on his way to a wedding. Griffin once churned out Hollywood hackwork but now teaches screenwriting at a small Northeastern college. He’s the devoted husband of Joy and adoring father of Laura. Successful at work, happy at home, he should be filled with contentment. But something is wrong: a worm of dissatisfaction burrows into his gut.

One problem is Griffin’s wonderfully awful parents, and in fact their narrative — rife with hilarious, meanspirited, self-sabotaging strategies — is much livelier than Griffin’s relatively calm one. In direct opposition to their crazy and amoral example, Griffin has tried to lead a ra­tional and emotionally responsible life. But nothing we ever do is in direct opposition to our family’s example: somehow we always manage to replicate some form of the pattern we’re trying to escape. While despising his parents (both of them professors, like him) Griffin unwittingly repeats their howling litany of discontent, careening closer and closer to their spiral of self-destruction.

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The novel’s title refers to the torch song “That Old Black Magic.” Every year Griffin’s parents sang their own version as they crossed the Sagamore Bridge on the way to that summer’s rental on Cape Cod. This was the moment in which they approached happiness, a destination they never reached.

Both his parents had modestly successful student careers, which they assumed would entitle them to a life in the prestigious academic world of the Northeast. Instead, they ended up in Indiana. Being horrible snobs, they spent the rest of their teaching years despising the life they actually led and fantasizing bitterly over the one they felt they deserved. The Cape Cod vacations restored their connection to the Northeast and offered tantalizing dreams. Each year on arrival, they grabbed real estate brochures and examined the properties for sale, dividing them into two disqualifying groups: “Can’t Afford It” and “Wouldn’t Have It as a Gift.”

Their contempt extended to each other. For years, both carried on cruelly indiscreet affairs. When they finally split up, divorce locked them into a murderous embrace. Even after Griffin’s father dies, his mother continues her malevolent recital of his flaws.

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To avoid contamination, Griffin has kept Joy and Laura away from his parents. He believes that he himself has escaped them — his father’s hapless loser­dom, his mother’s corrosive rage. He’s unaware that he has not. He’s unaware that his own attitude toward Joy’s unintellectual family, for example, is very similar to his mother’s perception of the rest of the world: they both think the others are morons. In fact, there’s a lot that Griffin (like all protagonists) is unaware of, including his beloved wife’s innermost thoughts and the realities of her emotional life. Also his own innermost thoughts, and the realities of his own emotional life. He’s unaware of the fact that he, like his parents, is unable to commit to the life he has. He also doesn’t realize that he’s got it good.

As Griffin crosses the Sagamore Bridge, heading for the wedding of one of Laura’s friends, he finds himself humming his parents’ song. The Cape is the scene of his happiest childhood moments, and of his own honeymoon, but Griffin doesn’t feel carefree. He’s alone (why isn’t Joy with him?) but not unencumbered. His wife and daughter are on his mind, his parents even more so. In the trunk of his car are his father’s ashes, awaiting dispersal, and on his cellphone the caller ID list shows a mounting number of calls from Mom. She knows where he is and what he’s planning, and when Griffin finally picks up, she launches into excruciatingly detailed accounts of her marital history. Does Griffin really want to hear this replaying of his awful parents’ awful relationship? Well, maybe not, but it has an awful fascination, so he listens, and we do too.

Things get complicated. Griffin hears about a call from his old agent in Holly­wood. It could only mean another job: the idea reignites Griffin’s discontentment. He remembers the adrenalin rush of jetting off to LAX, the pleasures of holing up with his old partner and hammering out terrible scripts. The camaraderie, the self-inflating sense of being in the big time. He’s tempted — well, who wouldn’t be? That worm is going deeper and deeper.

When Griffin and Joy married, Joy had wanted to spend the honeymoon in Maine, near the ramshackle old house her family had always rented. But Griffin had persuaded — or bullied — her into a honeymoon on the Cape instead. The red flag should go up right here: in Russo’s world, Maine is the land of solid, true-blue values, and Cape Cod is where snobs go to feel superior. Griffin should have backed off at once. Instead, they honeymooned in Truro, where they agreed that Griffin would eventually stop working in Holly­wood and move back East to become a professor. But now he thinks aggrievedly that he has done that, he’s given Joy what she wanted. Isn’t it his turn? Isn’t he allowed to choose something that will make him happy for a change?

We could answer that, but we aren’t allowed to, so we watch while Griffin plays out his misguided plan. The second part of the novel takes place a year later, in Maine, and the second wedding is Laura’s. I won’t reveal what happens during the interim, except to say that Griffin and Joy have reached a pretty serious impasse, thanks largely to that nasty little critter in Griffin’s belly.

Slapstick is another tool in Russo’s repertory. The past drama of the parents’ marriage is relayed in comically dreadful flashbacks: the ghastly, manipulative graduate student who entraps the father after his divorce; the nightmare retirement dinner for the acidulous mother, who uses it as an opportunity to declare her real feelings; the casual disregard the parents, as renters, have for any house-owner’s property. Russo clearly enjoys himself as careers topple, good taste is outraged and professional ethics are mauled. By the second wedding, chaos appears in the present, and there’s a scene at the reception — involving a wheelchair, a rotten wooden ramp and a pair of truculent twin Marines — that Charlie Chaplin would have loved.

Family, family, family is the subject of “That Old Cape Magic.” The family is where the best — and the worst — things happen to us. Whether we embrace it or try to escape it, the family is at the center of our lives. Along with that voracious little worm of dissatisfaction, munching away. Which will triumph? Richard Russo roots for the family, but he knows the worm is there.

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