"Late middle age," as Jack Griffin, screenwriter, college prof, and protagonist of Richard Russo's novel That Old Cape Magic, "was coming to understand, was a time of life when everything was predictable and yet somehow you failed to see any of it coming." In the short year between his daughter Laura's best friend's Cape Cod wedding and Laura's own wedding on the coast of Maine, Jack's life has gone significantly south. He has separated from Joy, his wife of 30 years, and put his academic career on hold, his agent in Hollywood has been found dead in his bed, and Griffin is carrying the ashes of both parents around in the trunk of his rent-a-car, hoping to fulfill his mother's request to scatter her ashes on the Atlantic side of the Cape, and his father's into the bay. His mother (who finds kindness "fabulously exotic") has become far more talkative since her death, and seems to have developed a ventriloquistic power over Jack that gets him punched in the face at the rehearsal dinner by his soon to be ex-brother-in-law. More real to him than any current calamity are memories of "The Summer of the Brownings," when Griffin, 11, fell wholly in love with a family in a neighboring cottage, understanding for the first time that his parents' unfriendly, unfaithful, exhausted version of marriage was not the only model available. In one of America's most mythic landscapes, Russo details one man's shaky first steps out of his past and into self-knowledge with good humor, generosity, and an open heart.