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Empire Falls | [Richard Russo]

Empire Falls

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 life.
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Publisher's Summary

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

What the Critics Say

"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)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (205 )
5 star
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4.2 (182 )
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4.4 (179 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
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Performance
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  •  
    margaret 01-23-12
    margaret 01-23-12

    gentle reader

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Hugely Enjoyable"

    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.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rigadon USA 01-24-15
    Rigadon USA 01-24-15 Member Since 2013
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    "Pulitzer Prize well deserved"

    Every book written by Richard Russo have been excellent. About simple everyday life, and folks we all recognize, yet every phrase turns your head.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Steve Delray Beach, FL, United States 03-31-14
    Steve Delray Beach, FL, United States 03-31-14 Member Since 2013

    A well written book is a gem.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Fine wine for the soul. Savor every word."

    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.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 06-01-15
    Janice Sugar Land, TX, United States 06-01-15 Member Since 2010

    Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Lives of quiet desperation"

    When Thoreau observed that “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” he may have just passed through Empire Falls and visited the Empire Grill. The inhabitants of this economically depressed town live with the unlikely hope that something good might happen to restore prosperity and jobs that had evaporated with the closing of the mills years before. Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill personifies this hope, as he believes that the former owner of the mills, and still owner of the grill, will leave the grill to him upon her death as reward for his two decades of service. This belief is how he justifies the stagnation of his life and his refusal to strive for change. Problem is, this tyrannical woman is of the breed of those who are just too mean to die. Still, he is a good man doing the best he can with a deck stacked against him. Flashbacks reveal a bit at a time how he, and others in his sphere, came to where they are today,creating (if there is such a thing) an intimate saga that covers both a very few months and several decades. Russo explores destiny, sacrifice, and penitence vs power and free will, and how love (in all of its forms) shades the decisions that shape our lives.

    Darker than “Nobody’s Fool”, Russo still shows his genius at creating flesh and blood characters that, with few exceptions, are neither cloyingly good nor irredeemably bad, taking time to let us see day by day life from several characters’ POV. Russo’s writing is liberally sprinkled with his ironic humor and plain common sense that lets us see the lighter side of the human condition. Though Miles is the central character, Russo allows the supporting cast just the right amount of “screen time” to fully incorporate them into the bigger picture,

    For readers who like quick reads and thrilling action, this may not satisfy. This is not a fast food book, it is a sit down meal, like the good yankee pot roast prepared by the parish priest’s housekeeper. Ron McLarty’s reading adds to the quality of this selection. Well recommended.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Barbara R. 05-26-15
    Barbara R. 05-26-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Excellent Read!"

    This is the second time I've read Empire Falls. The first time was several years ago - I'd forgotten what a wonderful story it is. The characters are just like people in the small town where I live. This book is the perfect example of how our choices can make us or break us.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bookmarque 07-25-14
    Bookmarque 07-25-14 Member Since 2007

    ksx2

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    "An absorbing experience"

    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.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rachel Tooth 08-02-15 Member Since 2015
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    "School Reading"

    It was a pretty good book. It was long but very interesting and I liked some of the little mysteries! I was expecting it to be a bad book since it is a book I have to read for my English class but it was surprisingly better than I expected.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 08-12-14
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 08-12-14 Member Since 2015
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    "Sit-com dialogs and snide humor"

    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.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jessica SAN JOSE, CA, United States 06-21-13
    Jessica SAN JOSE, CA, United States 06-21-13 Member Since 2013
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Characters you might actually meet"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Empire Falls to be better than the print version?

    Audible is more convenient for me because I am on the road a lot for work.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of Empire Falls?

    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.


    Which character – as performed by Ron McLarty – was your favorite?

    Ron did a great job portraying the "silver fox", especially when he was meant to sing in the story.


    Who was the most memorable character of Empire Falls and why?

    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.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Colleen Grayslake, IL USA 01-14-13
    Colleen Grayslake, IL USA 01-14-13 Member Since 2012
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    "First Audible Experience"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Empire Falls to be better than the print version?

    Yes: I started reading the print version, then switched over to the audio version and enjoyed it very much.


    Have you listened to any of Ron McLarty’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

    Haven't listened to any of Ron McLarty's performances before, but I would again.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    It didn't really have that kind of "gripping" plot. I enjoyed listening to it as I was driving to work and back.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • Annie
    Montignac sur Charente, France
    6/1/15
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Excellent depiction of small town America"
    If you could sum up Empire Falls in three words, what would they be?

    heartwarming, exciting, sad


    What did you like best about this story?

    The minutiae of small town America, mixed with drama, romance, longing and tragedy


    What about Ron McLarty’s performance did you like?

    His warm tones, and his sensitive delivery


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    The moment when Tick and her father are reunited in the art class, towards the end of the book.


    Any additional comments?

    This is the first Richard Russo book I have bought and I will certainly listen to others, especially if Ron McLarty is reading them. I think Russo could have tied up all the strings at the end, but it was also good to be left imagining what would happen next.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • hfffoman
    Kent
    8/27/14
    Overall
    Performance
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    "A delight from beginning to end"
    Any additional comments?

    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.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • zomodo
    4/26/12
    Overall
    "Recommended"

    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

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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