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Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls (2001)

by Richard Russo

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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7,010149515 (3.95)333
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    browner56: Although separated by half a century and half the country, Thalia, Texas and Empire Falls, Maine could be the same dreary and decaying small town.
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Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Richard Russo is one of those authors I've been meaning to read for a long time but somehow kept missing along the way. Last December, I bought my copy of Empire Falls at the annual LibraryThing meetup in Joplin, Mo., and then promptly forgot all about it in the rush of reading all the books I had put on hold from the library. It wasn't until Mamie mentioned in her thread that she was planning to read it for Mark's American Author Challenge this month that I was inspired to pull it out and give it a read, and I'm so glad I did.

Russo's writing style is very appealing to me. It is funny and self-deprecating, but also tender and kind even as the point of view rotates amongst several different characters. He has a way of slipping in great truths about life in ways that seem natural to the conversation or the situation. And there are plenty of opportunities for that, as we spend time with Miles Roby, who grew up in Empire Falls and failed to fulfill his mother's single quest, to make sure that he got a college education and never returned to the small, dying mill town again. Now he's raising his daughter Tick, going through a divorce from Tick's mother, and trying to keep the Empire Grill alive even as its owner, the formidable Francine Whiting, does her best to keep him teetering on the brink of solvency.

The town of Empire Falls itself is a character, a small town whose brief burst of prosperity died along with the textile mills and the shirt factory, and is now limping into a dismal and uncertain future. No one in this book is successful, really. Miles and his family are insecure financially and emotionally; the town cop is on the take, the high school is the kind of festering cesspool of insecurity, meanness and unhappiness that only a high school can be, and even rich Mrs. Whiting must cope with a crippled daughter and a seemingly satanic cat. Terrible things happen, and there is no guaranteed happily-ever-after for anyone, but I found the ending satisfying in its own way, for it seemed to offer a glimmer of hope to Miles and Tick and the rest of the town. Of course, glimmers of hope can be snuffed out in an instant, so perhaps it's best that Russo draws the curtain before the disillusionment arrives. ( )
  rosalita | May 12, 2016 |
A remarkably well-written portrait of a group of people living in an economically depressed small town in Maine. This is the kind of fat, juicy, satisfying read you want when you are cooped up on a rainy weekend. You feel like you know the characters inside out and have walked a mile in their shoes. The problem? There doesn’t seem to be much of a plot (and “much of” is being kind). Oh, everything finally comes to a head, after 400 pages or so - but it feels forced and artificial – I imagined an editor yelling at the author. The epilogue explains some things very neatly (too neatly for my taste), but fails to answer the ONE QUESTION that the protagonist had been wondering about since the beginning of the book. (I said some very bad words when I turned the page and there was no more.) ( )
  memccauley6 | May 3, 2016 |
Took a while to get into and a bit long/ slow paced. But I couldn't stop because I wanted to know what happened to the characters. ( )
  add_dragon | Mar 26, 2016 |
Definitely one of the most intricate plots I have come across in a long time. The characters, the plots, and the mysteries were all wrapped up so beautifully. ( )
  ShayLRoss | Mar 16, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 142 (next | show all)
Russo's command of his story is unerring, but his manner is so unassuming that his mastery is easy to miss. He satisfies every expectation without lapsing into predictability, and the last section of the book explodes with surprises that also seem, in retrospect, like inevitabilities. As the pace quickens and the disparate threads of the narrative draw tighter, you find yourself torn between the desire to rush ahead and the impulse to slow down.

Empire Falls, situated at a fictitious and unlovely bend of the Knox River, is the kind of place tourists from Boston or New York speed through en route to the mini-Martha's Vineyards of the Maine coast, perhaps stopping for lunch at a place like the Empire Grill and eavesdropping on the taciturn, wisecracking regulars. By the end of this novel, you'll know the town's geography like a native, and its tattered landmarks -- the Empire Grill, the old Whiting shirt factory, the architectural folly C. B. Whiting built across the river -- will be as vivid and as charged with metaphor as Salem's house of seven gables or the mansions of East Egg. You will also have had the good fortune to tour this unremarkable geography in the company of an amiable, witty raconteur who knows all the gossip and the local history as well as some pretty good jokes. Only after you've bought him a beer, shaken his hand and said goodbye will it occur to you that he's also one of the best novelists around.
added by WiJiWiJi | editNew York Times, A.O. Scott (Jun 24, 2001)
Russo's command of his story is unerring, but his manner is so unassuming that his mastery is easy to miss. He satisfies every expectation without lapsing into predictability, and the last section of the book explodes with surprises that also seem, in retrospect, like inevitabilities. As the pace quickens and the disparate threads of the narrative draw tighter, you find yourself torn between the desire to rush ahead and the impulse to slow down.
added by Nickelini | editNew York Times, A.O. Scott (Jun 24, 2001)

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Richard Russoprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Ven, Sandra van deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Compared to the Whiting mansion in town, the house Charles Beaumont Whiting built a decade after his return to Maine was modest.
Some sins trail their own penance.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375726403, Paperback)

Like most of Richard Russo's earlier novels, Empire Falls is a tale of blue-collar life, which itself increasingly resembles a kind of high-wire act performed without the benefit of any middle-class safety nets. This time, though, the author has widened his scope, producing a comic and compelling ensemble piece. There is, to be sure, a protagonist: fortysomething Miles Roby, proprietor of the local greasy spoon and the recently divorced father of a teenage daughter. But Russo sets in motion a large cast of secondary characters, drawn from every social stratum of his depressed New England mill town. We meet his ex-wife Janine, his father Max (another of Russo's cantankerous layabouts), and a host of Empire Grill regulars. We're also introduced to Francine Whiting, a manipulative widow who owns half the town--and who takes a perverse pleasure in pointing out Miles's psychological defects.

Miles does indeed have a tendency to take it on the chin. (At one point he alludes to his own "natural propensity for shit-eating.") And his role as Mr. Nice Guy thrusts him into all sorts of clashes with his not-so-nice contemporaries, even as the reader patiently waits for him to blow his top. It would be impossible to summarize Russo's multiple plot lines here. Suffice it to say that he touches on love and marriage, lust and loss and small-town economics, with more than a soupçon of class resentment stirred into the broth. This is, in a sense, an epic of small and large frustrations: "After all, 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." Yet Russo's comedic timing keeps the novel from collapsing into an orgy of breast-beating, and his dialogue alone--snappy and natural and efficiently poignant--is sufficient cause to put Empire Falls on the map. --Bob Brandeis

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:27 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it's Janine, Miles' soon-to-be ex-wife, who's taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it's the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town-and seems to believe that "everything" includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America . . .… (more)

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