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.
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.
one of the best books, he tells a good story i had not listened to this in years, yet still could not stop listening
miles, I think we would have a lot in common
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