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.
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.
I'm always looking for that well written 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.
Rating scale: 5=Loved it, 4=Liked it, 3=Ok, 2=Disappointed, 1=Hated it. I look for well developed characters, compelling stories.
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.
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.
Russo is like Mozart. He has such mastery of his craft that he may, at times, playfully showcase his dexterity, virtuosity, and understanding of human psychology, at the expense of the story and timeline. In the same paragraph, one can't help but feel awed by Russo's talent and yet slightly annoyed at slogging through his mental masturbation. I won't read another book by Russo for a while, but I'm glad I read this one. Such a great story teller.
Richard Russo never fails to entertain me and make me laugh. There is not a boring part in this book. The characters are excellently constructed. The author jumps eloquently from one character to the other and from the past to the present. This dark comedy of sorts builds up to a climatic ending.
The narrator deserves 5 stars himself for the amazing vibrant reading and impersonating the characters. His performance was definitely in par with the comic sarcastic tone of the book. Highly recommend.
A fabulous book - my review is on Good reads. But jeeez where is the producer or editor or whatever who could edit out every time the narrator wet his mouth or swallowed?! He did a fabulous job with Max particularly. But it was so annoying to listen to him constantly wet his mouth- seems that could be edited out!!!!
"Excellent depiction of small town America"
heartwarming, exciting, sad
The minutiae of small town America, mixed with drama, romance, longing and tragedy
His warm tones, and his sensitive delivery
The moment when Tick and her father are reunited in the art class, towards the end of the book.
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.
"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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