The first thing you notice about That Old Cape Magic is its length: Compared to Richard Russo's previous doorstoppers (Empire Falls is nearly 500 pages; Bridge of Sighs tops 600), Cape Magic is an underfed little thing, weighing in at a scant 261 pages.

The second thing you'll notice, and it's not unrelated to the first, is that the book's opening chapters are artlessly expository, as Russo hustles to fill us in on a lengthy backstory: By page 10, not only have we met our protagonist, Griffin, but we've been introduced to Griffin's wife, his adult daughter, his unhappy parents, and his wife's siblings. Russo even squeezes in a quick flashback, a few paragraphs summarizing Griffin's childhood vacations on Cape Cod.

Five or so chapters in, Russo's finally given us all the information we need, and Cape Magic begins to relax into its story. Griffin is on the outs with his wife, the result of a slow slog into unhappiness precipitated, his wife insists, by Griffin's inability to come to terms with his relationship to his parents, even after the death of his father. It's clear to the reader (if not to Griffin) that he blames his parents for far more than is reasonable: When a seagull shits on him after he's pulled over in his convertible to speak with his mother on the phone, his first thought is that "his mother had made him a stationary target, and this was the result."

Cape Magic lacks the expansive, roomy quality of Russo's best work, but his trademark warmth makes it a worthwhile read all the same—after all, it's only 261 pages.