BOOK TITLE: Empire Falls
BOOK AUTHOR: Richard Russo
PUBLISHER: Vintage |
April 12th 2002
GENRES: Literary Fiction
CHECK IT OUT AT: Goodreads
BUY IT: Buy on Amazon
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.
“One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he’s made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect.”
After reading Empire Falls by Richard Russo I cried. I was so sad it was over, so sad to leave Empire Falls, Maine, that I actually wept. The characters are so real, flaws and all, that I miss them. It took me a few days to pick up another book, and that NEVER happens to me.
On my Read Across The U.S. Quest, this was my first book. My novel for Maine. And it was a wonderful book with which to begin. Russo sets a perfect stage, and fills it with wonderfully rich characters. To him I say THANK YOU!!!! And, I’m so sorry I haven’t discovered you sooner!
Empire Falls, Maine has seen better days. The town, once prosperous under a successful textile mill owned by the Whiting family, has been closed for a couple of decades and the few businesses still open are hanging on by a thread. This includes The Empire Diner, a restaurant run by Miles Roby and owned by the last of the Whiting family, Francine. She promised the diner to Miles upon her death as long as he ran it for her, forcing him to leave college, when his mother was ill. In this, he feels his fate was sealed.
Miles is the protagonist of this story, a man in the middle of his life. He runs the diner and his life without passion, although I loved Miles. He is in the middle of a divorce, one that he doesn’t want but isn’t willing to fight, mainly because of his daughter, Tick, who is dealing with high school and those rocky waters. We even get to watch as Miles’ father, Max, runs off to Key West with a senile priest and the offering money, something that is met with very little surprise by Miles and his brother, David.
Readers are privy to flashbacks, from both the Whiting clan and Miles himself. Miles own memories help him deal with old wounds, making him also confront his current barriers. Tick also has to deal with the upsets of small town life and adolescence drama. In the end, it is a need to heal Tick that forces him to leave town.
This was a wonderful book with which to begin my journey. It was a perfect look at a small Maine town, written by a writer who uses his pen to paint a wonderful picture. Unfortunately, Vermont wasn’t such a treat. But that’s a story for another day.