Empire Falls

Empire Falls

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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.
ISBN: 9780679432470
0679432477
Branch Call Number: FICTION Russo 2001
F RUSSO

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avocadotree
May 30, 2017

Intelligent, funny and effortless. As good as they come and not over too fast. Some of the writing is overly sentimental, but maybe my family just never used cloying affection like, "Daddy". What teenager goes on saying, Daddy, Daddy, Daddy. Tick is not a believable teenager. I feel for her in only that she's a device for Miles own end. I honestly wouldn't have cared if she died at the end. It would only be used to make Miles more scarred than before which everyone and everything in Empire Falls is sad with either physical or emotional loss. Many people die violently, and somehow the rich and the poor lives of one small town owned and controlled by an old rich woman all intermingle until she's finally killed off. I don't see any of these characters surviving more than five years after the end of the novel. They're all doomed is the feeling I have and all long before there's purpose or redemption. Should be called the Curse of Empire Falls.

r
rogebc_0
Nov 06, 2016

While Richard Russo's writing is wonderful to read - easy to get lost in, deeply interesting - he is also able to tell very different kinds of stories. This takes place in a small New England town where the loss of the mill industry has left economic depression in its wake. The characters and choices they make and the forces of history that play out in the community without people realizing the connections - great read.

TSCPL_ChrisB Jun 04, 2016

A good story, but Empire Falls is certainly guilty of the Dickensian quality typical of many novels written by New England men born in this era: wordiness. Cut away the inflated backstory and there is certainly a quality story and wonderful characters beneath it.

g
gusmcrae
Nov 04, 2015

“Just because things happen slow doesn't mean you'll be ready for them. If they happened fast, you'd be alert for all kinds of suddenness, aware that speed was trump. "Slow" works in an altogether different principle, on the deceptive impression that there's plenty of time to prepare, which conceals the central fact, that no matter how slow things go, you'll always be slower.”
― Richard Russo, "Empire Falls"

Somewhat ironically, my time reading "Empire Falls" mirrors this quote almost perfectly. The book was a slow, slow read. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. It just meant that the novel would suck me in (and it managed to do that every time I picked it up), but my progress was pretty slow. "Empire Falls" isn't a novel full of cliffhangers. What is is chock full of, though, is interesting characters, many of whom Richard Russo takes the time to develop quite nicely. The story is multi-layered, focusing on one man (Miles Roby) through flashbacks and the present-day perspectives of Miles, his friends, family, and neighbors (some of whom he likes and some who he would rather never see again). And although the progress was slow, I couldn't help but find myself fully immersed in the dying, Maine factory town that Miles calls home.

The novel touches on so many themes--small town life in America (or rather the death of that life), Catholic guilt, teen angst, lost dreams (our own and those of our parents), self-worth, the power and control some people take over others (and that some people willingly give), and many, many more. Russo's book tackles so many things at once that it could be easy to get lost in it all. Fortunately, he writes with grace and a dusting of humor that makes the slow journey one that I found I could savor. There were so many moments I found myself nodding along to one of Miles' revelations because they were so relevant to my own experiences. Russo created a bit of an American Everyman in Miles.

The book didn't quite go the way I was thinking it would, though looking back over the story the outcome makes a lot of sense. And despite the slowness of the book, the conclusion came so fast--so heartbreaking in a matter of moments. The journey to that moment, and the characters I met along the way, added so much to the heart-wrenching conclusion. I've already left Empire Falls and its people behind, but I certainly won't forget them, nor wonder how they're doing.

l
lukasevansherman
Aug 27, 2014

Russo is the Dickens of small town American life. Turned into an HBO film with Paul Newman and Ed Harris.

GOGETA1946 Jun 26, 2014

This Pulitzer novel stirred so many emotions in me that some times I had to walk away from it because I was becoming so 'involved'. Enjoyed it so much that I borrowed the HBO movies, which having combined some scenes (as book adaptation usually do), was still an extremely enjoyable viewing.

d
dbrh852
Jul 12, 2013

This book takes some patience while the story develops, but it is worth the investment of time. All of the characters are richly developed and memorable. Subtle humor throughout...our book group found many thought provoking topics to discuss out of this story.

m
modestgoddess
Jun 14, 2013

First time I tried to read this, I resented it for not being Straight Man, which I loved. Just tried again - couldn't put it down. Russo reveals his characters and builds his situations in a measured, thoughtful way. I found it utterly compelling. (Did feel he cheated a bit at the major crisis, but I can forgive him for that...!) Full of interest and moment. Really a great read.

Ljubica81 Dec 28, 2011

Great characters, good read.

ksoles May 19, 2011

I always felt out of the loop for having not read Empire Falls, the Pulitzer winner of 2002 that received thunderous critical acclaim. I'm pleased to now be up to speed and to know what all the fuss is about! Having said that, Russo's book gets off to a slow start; its prologue is exceedingly dull and the first 150 pages feature unlikable characters introduced in a chaotic fashion combined with chapters of extended flashbacks. Had I not said to myself, "I know this has to get better," I would have probably given up.

However, I'm certainly glad I persevered as the plot becomes engaging, the dialogue turns realistic and understatedly hilarious, and the relationships among the characters grow in complexity and tenderness. At the centre, protagonist Miles Roby remains troubled, exasperating, genuine and completely relatable.

The 500 page novel deals with an impressive array of social issues from childhood hurts to economics (the title becomes literal as an Empire indeed falls) to small town mentality to the importance of following one's dreams. And the shocking, rather disturbing ending reveals both the hatred and the love of which humans are capable. Ultimately, the novel has a lot in common with the town it depicts: both are quirky, unpretentious and full of desire. After all, the omniscient narrator asks, "what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their heart's impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble?"

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