As in the Frank Sinatra torch song, “That Old Black Magic,” the protagonist of Richard Russo’s That Old Cape Magic (Random House, $15) spirals down and down under the pressure of Love. Unable to let his past go, he drives around New England with his parents’ urns in the trunk of his convertible. Searching for a suitable burial place, he also tries to reconcile his crumbling life with the fact that he has attained every goal he set himself when he married: he has a beautiful house on the Cape, a successful career at a posh college, happy children--yet he’s in the throes of a divorce and endures a miserable professorship while pining to return to life on the West Coast. Russo recounts the tale with humor, pathos, and hilarity.
Jill Jonnes revisits the 1889 World’s Fair to chronicle the construction of Eiffel’s Tower (Penguin, $16). Her fluid reportage, knowing navigation of the period’s social standards, and clear presentation of the political gamesmanship that goes into the creation of a national symbol make for an amusing and charming narrative. While luminaries such as Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Thomas Edison, Paul Gauguin, and James McNeill Whistler enjoyed the sights, the Tower rose amid disputes over the project’s expense, its time frame, and the building’s artistic value. Yet Eiffel defied the odds and built a monument to Paris that would withstand the test of time.
Ed Viesturs is the most respected climber in the world, the Zelig of contemporary mountaineering. In the books and documentaries on Everest, K2, Aconcagua and other mountains of the Greater Ranges, one always notices Viesturs in the corner, watching, commenting and climbing with the best of the best. Viesturs focuses more on the history of K2 than his own treacherous 1992 ascent. Yet his exposition is infused with guts, humor and wisdom borne of personal experience. K2 is well worth close attention.