Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We Hold These Truths to be Unavoidable

The struggle to avoid becoming one's own parents is classic.  We all swear that we will never be the same way that our parents were, and will never make the same mistakes.  We may quote them, and think that we are being funny.  But then we find that we are using their words when we aren't joking.  We may remember the judgments that they passed on the neighborhoods of choice, the right schools to attend, and the types of friends we should have, with a certain degree of resentment.  But we remember the judgments nonetheless.

How to avoid becoming his parents is the dilemma faced by Griffin in That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo.  Griffin thinks that he is living his life in opposition to that lived by his parents, when in fact, he is replicating their every move.  Eventually Griffin begins to realize that he is only able to live his life in a different and healthy way when he admits that in some respects, becoming his parents is unavoidable. 

At one point, Griffin confronts his mother about some particularly scarring memories.  He is utterly shocked when his mother does not defend her past actions, but instead remembers the whole situation in an entirely different way, with enough supporting facts to make Griffin question his recollection.  As a parent, I wish that I could have a role in shaping my kids' memories.  If I could just press "record" when everyone is getting along, we're smiling, and the sun is shining, I would absolutely do it.  I would also press "delete" on those days when I scream and we're late for everything.  But those aren't really the memories that I worry about.  I worry about the random events, conversations and mishaps the kids will remember, which I think are completely minor, but which may actually help buy their future therapist a new car.  This story has been written hundreds of times, but Russo has a way of delving deeper and getting to the heart of Griffin's relationship with each of his parents that really works.

I would not call That Old Cape Magic a page turner, but in terms of the parent-child relationship, it is a really solid book that is worth the read. 

Next up on CD:  Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Just Started Reading:  The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz

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