Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2002
Richard Russo - from his first novel, Mohawk, to his most recent, Straight Man - has demonstrated a peerless affinity for the human tragicomedy, and with this stunning new novel he extends even further his claims on the small-town, blue-collar heart of the country.
Dexter County, Maine, and specifically the town of Empire Falls, has seen better days, and for decades, in fact, only a succession from bad to worse. One by one, its logging and textile enterprises have gone belly-up, and the once vast holdings of the Whiting clan (presided over by the last scion’s widow) now mostly amount to decrepit real estate. The working classes, meanwhile, continue to eke out whatever meager promise isn’t already boarded up.
Miles Roby gazes over this ruined kingdom from the Empire Grill, an opportunity of his youth that has become the albatross of his daily and future life. Called back from college and set to work by family obligations - his mother ailing, his father a loose cannon - Miles never left home again. Even so, his own obligations are manifold: a pending divorce; a troubled younger brother; and, not least, a peculiar partnership in the failing grill with none other than Mrs. Whiting. All of these, though, are offset by his daughter, Tick, whom he guides gently and proudly through the tribulations of adolescence.
A decent man encircled by history and dreams, by echoing churches and abandoned mills, by the comforts and feuds provided by lifelong friends and neighbors, Miles is also a patient, knowing guide to the rich, hardscrabble nature of Empire Falls: fathers and sons and daughters, living and dead, rich and poor alike. Shot through with the mysteries of generations and the shattering visitations of the nation at large, it is a social novel of panoramic ambition, yet at the same time achingly personal. In the end, Empire Falls reveals our worst and best instincts, both our most appalling nightmares and our simplest hopes, with all the vision, grace and humanity of truly epic storytelling.
©2001 Richard Russo (P)2011 Random House Audio
"In a warmhearted novel of sweeping scope.... Russo follows up his rollicking academic satire, Straight Man (1997), with a return to the blue-collar melieu featured in his first three novels and once again shows an unerring sense of the rhythms of small-town life, balancing his irreverent, mocking humor with unending empathy for his characters and their foibles" (Booklist)
This is one of those books that holds your interest because you grow to care about the characters and just can't wait to find out what happens to them.
The reader does a marvelous job.
I took it from the car to the house and back to the car and I wish it had gone on longer.
Every book written by Richard Russo have been excellent. About simple everyday life, and folks we all recognize, yet every phrase turns your head.
After a bit more than four chapters:
I continue to have a hard time with this. I find it extremely depressing. There is humor, but it is not the kind I like. It is sarcastic, mean humor where you are supposed to laugh at the stupidity or crude behavior of people. I protest; I like to laugh with people in happiness, not at people for our weaknesses. There is a priest that is demented and he wants to hear confessionals so he can hear what is going on and then he tells others. Now I don't think that is nice. Sure it might happen in the real world but how often? There is Miles' alcoholic father who continually throws out cruel, snide criticisms of his son and others. Miles' mother has died of cancer and her death was painful and horrible for all. I find this depressing. I am not avoiding the reality of life, but what is the purpose of sinking myself into the worst of man's behavior.
Mid-life crises kind of bore me.
None of this is a spoiler since I have not gone far into the book.
Neither have I even mentioned the prologue which was utterly disgusting. I don't find it appetizing to read about a decomposing moose, even if it leads C.B. to make a foolish decision - BTW, here I am just guessing. Let me point out that I never shy away from gruesome events in history, but what is the point here in reading about how people behave so cruelly to one another? What does that teach me?
There is absolutely nothing exceptional about the writing; the author's ability to depict an emotion, a place or an event is just plain ordinary.
This received a Pulitzer. Would somebody who loves this book explain to me why I should continue reading. I just do not understand. SHOULD I continue? I need advice.
After 14 chapters (about half of the book):
So I continued; several said that Tick is a fabulous character. She plays a larger and larger role starting in Part Two. She cannot save this book for me. I find the humor not to my taste. I find the characters black or white - cardboard characters. It is simple to make two piles, the good ones and the bad ones. I cannot accept such characterization. People are complicated; they cannot be sorted in this manner. And the dialogs sound like those perfect for a popular weekly television series. Perfect sitcom dialogs.
In desperation I went and read spoiler reviews...... No, what is coming is not up my alley either. Enough is enough. I will be reading no more books by Richard Russo. This is my third and last try.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Ron Mclarty. That was the only thing that was exceptional. Great narration. His intonation perfectly matched the lines. So if you want to read this book don't hesitate to choose the audio format and this narrator.
A well written book is a gem.
Sip swirl and breath. Repeat. Recharge your soul with this as from a glass dark and deep with all the beautiful truths and failures of being human.
Empire Falls is primarily a character-driven book and the plot, where it becomes important, is more of a let’s-see-what-happens-next variety rather than one where there is a definitive goal or outcome to be achieved. Mostly the story revolves around Miles Roby who is a well-meaning bumbler of a man and while he doesn’t generate any strong emotion for me, he was someone to root for. I didn’t feel strongly about him in any way and it mirrors his own view of himself and his circumstances. Until the very end, Miles never seemed to feel enough about his own life to run it on his own terms. He felt a duty to live for others; his mother, Mrs. Whiting, his daughter and Empire Falls itself.
Besides Miles, another focus character is Tick, his daughter. I liked the way she put her decisions together, admitting that maybe she doesn’t know everything yet, but also is pretty sure of the things she does know. Like many mother-daughter-grandmother relationships, she is closer to the elder of the two and holds her mother in contempt for her relationship with the sliver fox, and can you blame her?, I mean, please. She hasn’t yet recognized her parents as people first, parents second.
At first, the frenetic ending seemed rushed, but then I realized that it was brewing for quite some time. Mrs. Whiting, for me, became harder and harder to like as I at first did, and her heartless treatment of everyone around her got to be disgusting. Janine’s capitulation to what she thinks she really needs turns out to be not so wonderful. Miles gets into it with Jimmy Minty. Tick gets out of it with his son, Zach, but Zach’s athletic career has taken a detour into unsportsmanlike conduct and bad public opinion. The missing grandmother and finally, John’s descent into violence bring the crescendo to a roar. There’s so much more to this novel than what I’ve described here and so I can’t really do it justice. The characters and their situations will remain in my mind for a while yet and that for me, is a mark of a good book and a good reading experience.
Audible is more convenient for me because I am on the road a lot for work.
The author makes the characters like someone you might go to a small town and meet. He did a great job of making this story seem like you're really living life in this town with the characters.
Ron did a great job portraying the "silver fox", especially when he was meant to sing in the story.
Tick was the most memorable character. She's a smart, but quirky teenager. She has all the typical teenage problems, but handles them very maturely.
The prologue and epilogue were great. The long middle was often tedious and a tad mundane... post-modern crap that wandered along, plotless but incident-rich. The characters were not standouts, but were normal, accurately described people we all know, love and hate.
The problem was not only the lack of a "point," but the lack of cohesion. Many, many things occurred in this long story, but all you really needed and wanted to know was given in the prologue. The resolution of the story questions did not come until the epilogue and then, the explanations were kind of shruggingly okay.
In the middle are several family members, several subsets of families, several buildings and locations whose past, present and future are all linked. We have several unlikable characters, and contrary to common practice, some of these are children, and they are believable. There is a climax crisis seen in a school, it is inevitable, I suppose, but the actions of one of the key child characters is indecisive and, frankly, not well explained. It was as if the author was the father of the child and couldn't commit to allow the child to act as a normal child might have. The father in the book, the key character, Miles, is an overweight softie who has no guidance except that of his gruff (caricature of a) father. He is manipulated by women living and dead and he really has no past to stand him out as a protagonist with something to lose or acquire or adapt to. Many other characters (brother David for one and ex-wife Janine for another) are multi-faceted and have depth. The author gives those characters depth of feeling and contemplation, reflection and acts that change after reflection. For Miles, the author has nothing but irritation.
At the end of the book, the reader is given the explanations to a number of odd events in a few of the characters' lives. Miles makes a decision -- finally -- but it is a decision to do nothing rather than to do something. I got the impression that in the "sequel" (God forbid) we would find the Robey family intact and picnicking on the Whiting land. I learned nothing, I felt little for any of these people and not for one moment do I think I could find this so-called Empire Falls anywhere on the planet. It was not sufficiently engaging. It was like a diary of a bored man.
I gave it three stars because the writing is exquisite. The language, the imagery, the 2nd hand, omniscient description of what characters said and felt were all astute and believable. What was lacking was the voice of the characters as they experienced it.
The narrator, as usual was fabulous and correctly distinguished voices. If I have one complaint about McClarty, it's his attempts at women's voices. But to his credit, they were all equally treated. The women sound like drag queens. Still I'd listen to Ron read anything over some of the other narrators I have endured.
*** for story
** for structure of the novel.
***** for the narrator.
Yes: I started reading the print version, then switched over to the audio version and enjoyed it very much.
Haven't listened to any of Ron McLarty's performances before, but I would again.
It didn't really have that kind of "gripping" plot. I enjoyed listening to it as I was driving to work and back.
I've never read the printed version but the audio was well narrated.
Hmmm...None really come to mind that are too similar. Maybe The Shipping News by Annie Proulx.
I thougt he portrayed the characters well, especially Walt. Good comedy relief.
The fight scene with Jimmy Minty was pretty entertaining.
Nice writing and fairly believable characters. I'm steadily becoming a Richard Russo fan.
Just when you think you know where the story is going, the author comes along, gives you more information, and heads off in another direction. I am tempted to listen again - now knowing "the full" story, would like to listen to the events from this new vantage point. How you understand a situation is based on what you know of the characters and their past - so adding new information as the author does, changes your perspective and your sympathies. A book that truly can be read (and enjoyed) multiple times.
"A delight from beginning to end"
This is my third Richard Russo novel and all three have been a delight from start to finish. Although mildly comedic, if you took away the funny side you would still have a moving drama full of sadness and realism.
I notice with Richard Russo that about once a page, maybe more, I encounter a sentence that is so perfect it makes me smile, usually an observation that is accurate, witty and beautifully phrased. I was sorry when I reached the end.
At first I didn't like the voice but by the end I felt it was perfect for the book. He uses a terrific range of dialogue voices that really brings the characters to life.
Another pleasant, warm and gently funny book about the relationships and personalities of a small town. I enjoyed this as much as Nobody's Fool. Well Recommended
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