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Empire Falls by Richard Russo
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Empire Falls (2001)

by Richard Russo

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6,643131565 (3.95)271
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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 124 (next | show all)
Pulitzer Prize Winner Fiction 2002

I really enjoyed this novel about motivation and determination (and the lack thereof). Empire Falls is a dying small Maine town where the industry that built it is long gone, leaving behind only those who are either too stubborn or too lazy to move on to some place better (both literally and figuratively). There were some nice twists and turns in the narration, but the character development is what shines in this novel. It's about people and these characters feel like real people with real frailties, internal struggles, and petty behaviors. It's a depressing novel about broken dreams and how people deal with them (via resignation or anxiety). ( )
  dulcinea14 | Sep 18, 2014 |
Any Small Northeast Town, USA

Picture of a decaying Maine town, expertly drawn. A sense of fatalism runs through the book--not a happy and uplifting read, but powerful. Nobody does depressed small NE towns better than Russo. ( )
  Pat_F. | Jul 25, 2014 |
This is the story of Empire Falls, a town that once was grand.... But isn't. You get the feeling that Miles was once grand as well... But isn't. All of the characters are boring people in general, but the story is wonderful and the secrets that come out make you want to keep reading. ( )
  saradiann | Jun 29, 2014 |
Spoiler-y toward the end.

This was on my audible wishlist for a while and because of the nature of the mixed reviews I was hesitant to start it. Especially that it is a 20-hour narrative. But, since my effort to read new authors and books outside of my usual genres has been pretty successful, I decided to give it a go. During the time it took to listen to it all, I found out it won the Pulitzer for 2002 and so probably some of its praise was well-deserved. It turned out to be a fair assessment. It isn’t perfect, but I think it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. That is to tell the tale of a man in the middle, family secrets that really aren’t and the meaning of small-town power.

It 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. ( )
  Bookmarque | May 24, 2014 |
The Parable of the Prodigal Son tells of an impetuous and extravagant young man who, after running off from home and squandering his considerable inheritance, is welcomed back with open arms by his rejoicing father. Unfortunately, there is no such redemption for Miles Roby, the protagonist of Richard Russo’s affecting novel Empire Falls, whose mother Grace carefully plots for him to leave home for college as a way of escaping a dead-end existence in Empire Falls, Maine, the small, suffocating mill town in which they live. When Grace’s illness forces Miles to drop out of school and return to Empire Falls, it is very much against her will and creates a rift in their relationship that lasts until the day she dies. Twenty years later, Miles is indeed trapped in the same decaying environment, running a diner for the scheming town matriarch while trying to raise a precocious teenage daughter without much help from a self-absorbed ex-wife and an itinerant rogue of a father.

That may not sound like the plot of a particularly uplifting tale, but for this capable writer it provides the source material for a hilarious and deeply insightful book. As anyone who has read his work before can attest, Russo has a great affection for his characters—and there are a lot of characters worked into the 500 pages of this novel—as well as a wonderful talent for creating realistic dialogue. The story moves along at its own well-measured pace and manages to invest the reader in what happens to the people of Empire Falls without ever lapsing into a cloying sense of sentimentality. To be sure, drawing sympathetic portraits of the denizens of a down-and-out industrial city in the northeastern part of the United States is ground the author has tilled successfully in the past (e.g., The Risk Pool, Nobody’s Fool). Still, Russo is just so good at what he does that, for me, the stories never seem repetitious or forced. In fact, while he won a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for this one, that award really could have gone to any of three or four of his other novels instead. Russo truly is among the very best novelists we have. ( )
  browner56 | May 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (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.
added by Nickelini | editNew York Times, A.O. Scott (Jun 24, 2001)
 

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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.
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:00:48 -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)

» see all 4 descriptions

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