In Richard Russo’s 2009 novel “That Old Cape Magic,” the protagonist, Jack Griffin, heads to a Cape Cod steakhouse that’s always mobbed despite its “frozen-in-amber fifties feel.” The description rings true for those who have visited the Silver Lounge in North Falmouth, which has been in business since 1938 and which Russo acknowledges is the model for the novel’s Olde Cape Lounge.
With its sandy beaches, scrubby pines, windswept vistas, and slightly otherworldly vibe, Cape Cod has provided inspiration and settings to many a novelist and filmmaker. If you’re heading to the Cape this summer, you may want to check out a book or a movie before you go.
If you’re headed to Falmouth, “That Old Cape Magic” is a good start. A master storyteller, Russo captures the pull of the Cape for Jack and Joy Griffin, an attraction that endures despite the unexpected twists and turns of their decades-long marriage. Funny and thoughtful, the novel examines marriage, family, and all the other ties that bind.
The main character in the film “Radio Cape Cod” (2008) is an NPR radio show host who also performs weddings. The story involves three couples and a wedding over a five-day period in Woods Hole, a village of Falmouth. In the TV movie “Betrayed” (2014), shot in Falmouth and Barnstable, a pregnant Julie and her boyfriend Trent get caught up in a scandal when Trent is kidnapped by a mysterious man, and Julie’s husband is forced to pay the ransom.
If you’re headed to Chatham, be sure to read or see “The Finest Hours.” This 2009 book by Casey Sherman (who attended Barnstable High School) and Michael J. Tougias chronicles an extraordinary and heroic rescue off Chatham in 1952 by the US Coast Guard. The movie, released in 2016, stars Chris Pine, Casey Affleck, and Holliday Granger.
Many current and former Major League baseball players trace their success to the Cape Cod Baseball League, one of the best amateur sports leagues in the country. In “The Last Best League: One Summer, One Season, One Dream” (2004), writer Jim Collins follows a season in the life of the Chatham A’s. The story charts the changing fortunes of a handful of players in their effort to make the league playoffs and impress the Major League scouts. “Summer Catch” (2001), a movie starring Freddie Prinze Jr. and Jessica Biel that tells the story of a wealthy woman with ties to Cape Cod and her romance with a young baseball hopeful, is said to be based on the Cape Cod Baseball League.
Many authors have been drawn to Provincetown’s spare beauty and alternative vibe. In “The Maytrees” (2007), Annie Dillard traces the relationship of Provincetown native Toby Maytree and Lou Bigelow in postwar Provincetown from their first meeting to old age. A poet and an artist, they live cheaply among the nonconformists the tip of Cape Cod attracts. In this moving novel, Dillard manages to capture nature’s vastness and nearness. “The Postmistress” (2010) by Sarah Blake tells the stories of an American radio reporter stationed in London on the eve of the US entrance into World War II and a postmistress in the Massachusetts coastal town of Franklin, said to be modeled on Provincetown. “Ptown Diaries” (2009) is a documentary that weaves together the stories of the New England Yankees, Portuguese fishermen, and bohemian artists that created the Provincetown of today. With several scenes filmed at Race Point Lighthouse in Provincetown and Chatham Light, “The Lightkeepers” (2009) stars Richard Dreyfuss and Blythe Danner. It follows a lightkeeper who prefers not to associate with women, but is forced to reconsider when two female visitors move into a nearby cottage for the summer.
And, of course, there are the classics. “Cape Cod” by Henry David Thoreau, first published in 1865, describes the natural beauty of the peninsula in the mid-1800s. Henry Beston’s “The Outermost House: A Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod” (1928) chronicles the author’s life in a dune shack near Eastham. (The Blizzard of ’78 swept the house into the sea.) “Cape Cod” (1991) by William Martin, a historical saga about two intertwined families from their Pilgrim origins to the present day, is packed with Cape Cod history. Not quite a classic, but enjoyable to read or watch, “A Year by the Sea” (1999), a memoir by Joan Anderson, follows an empty nester who retreats to Cape Cod to rediscover herself. The 2016 movie based on the book was filmed in Eastham, Chatham, Wellfleet, Orleans, and Brewster and includes several scenes of the National Seashore.Ellen Albanese can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.