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Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls (original 2001; edition 2002)

by Richard Russo

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
7,249157491 (3.95)360
Title:Empire Falls
Authors:Richard Russo
Info:London : Vintage, 2002.
Collections:Read but unowned

Work details

Empire Falls by Richard Russo (2001)

  1. 40
    Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (2810michael)
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    The Last Picture Show by Larry McMurtry (browner56)
    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 149 (next | show all)
I realized after I started this that I had seen the TV movie of this so certain twists to the plot were not a surprise to me. However, the book is even better than the dramatization, in part because of the amount of detail and background given.

Coming from New England, there was a lot about the town of Empire Falls to which I could relate. I wonder if the shirt factory was modelled on the Hathaway Shirt company... I remember visiting one of their outlet stores in Maine every summer during our vacation growing up. ( )
  leslie.98 | Mar 31, 2017 |
Enjoyable with moments of clever insight. Characters seem overly exaggerated. Perhaps Russo always intended this as a screenplay? Even if I found it silly and predictable, I couldn't help but enjoy myself reading this novel. ( )
  ProfH | Jan 15, 2017 |
Miles Roby, who has been managing the Empire Grill in the small New England town of Empire Falls for decades, is dying of mediocrity. For as long as he’s been working the Grill, he has hoped to eventually inherit it, on the good graces of Francine Whiting – a savvy, manipulative, and very wealthy widow (I expect the last was the result of good planning rather than misfortune). Francine owns most of the businesses and many of the people in Empire Falls, and has a lengthy history with the Roby family – a history has nothing to do with good graces and everything to do with retribution. Grace, Miles’ long deceased mother, had an affair with C.B. Whiting, Francine’s husband, after which Francine took Grace into her employ service, where she remained until her death.

And so life for Miles drones on in Empire Falls – complete with hard knocks, hilarity, and pains in the ass. He is embroiled in a divorce he doesn’t want from Janine – a walking irony who likes to "piss and moan and rant and rave and sob her heart out" (426) – and is intent on marrying the "banty rooster" and gym-rat, Walt Comeau. Miles is having difficulty with Jimmy Minty, too, the local on-the-take cop, who is “sneaky and mean and envious and dangerous” (99). And his father, Max, who "smelled rancid and was a pain in the ass" (123), has him nearly to the point of distraction. The only bright light in Miles’ existence is his adolescent daughter, Tick: precocious and full of teenage angst, and totally disgusted with her mother for making Walt Comeau her stepfather. The novel takes a gut-wrenching turn I didn’t see coming when tragedy lambasts Empire Falls – and Miles might easily have lost her …

One of the accolades – one-liners and so often cliché – on the back cover of Empire Falls notes, Richard Russo can write small town like no other. That he can! This a story and a cast of characters that is not to be missed!

Favourite Moment of Hilarity:
Max and senile elderly priest make off with the church's tithes and Crown Victoria and hit up the Florida Keys for some sun: "His father wasn't too bad a driver when he was sober, but of course he wouldn't besober until their money ran out. Father Tom hadn't been too bad a driver when he still had his mind, but now he was easily confused, and Miles doubted he had much experience at freeway driving, or any driving, really, outside of rural mid-Maine ... In the keys, once the money ran out, Max would tire of the old priest's company and probably call St. Cat's and tell Father Mark where to come and pick him up. Miles just hoped Father Tom would not return with an ass full of obscene tattoos." (341) ( )
4 vote lit_chick | Dec 5, 2016 |
Empire Falls by Richard Russo; (4 1/2*)


Richard Russo surprises me in Empire Falls with the trials & life of Miles Roby, a restaurant manager, who's worried that the town dowager, Francine Whitney, will go back on her promise to leave him the restaurant when she dies. Empire Falls is a dying mill town and Francine owns everything including most of the people.
Things get complicated when the reader learns that Miles's mother had an affair with Francine's husband who owns the dying mills and he thinks that she is taking her angst out on him.
Miles has a daughter, Tick, who is the epitome of teenage angst & is having difficulty dealing with her father's looming divorce. We also have Miles's younger brother, David, who may or may not be the dead mill owner's son. Miles's naughty father, Max, steals from his son every chance he gets, there is the gay priest (who acts as Miles's confidant), a town police officer who suffers a low self esteem, Janine, Miles's ex and her fiancé, Walt, who owns a gym & is always trying to get Miles to arm wrestle with him. You know, prove who the better man is.
The reader is treated to most of these characters through each ones POV. Russo gets inside their heads and stays there for pages on end, telling us what they are thinking but just when we get interested in one of them he switches perspectives. This is not a short nor exceptionally easy book to read.
But this reader took no issue with that. Russo had me from the start. The book can be quite nostalgic and yet hysterically funny at times. Consider Miles' father. Max is very funny & I caught myself laughing out loud more than once. He has always wanted to go to the Florida Keys but this would take money, of which he has none. He gets the parish priest to help him steal money from the church's collection plate. Whoah! Dad is a hoot!
The ending of Empire Falls is one that I must admit I was not prepared for. Neither were the characters. I found this to be a very well written slice of life in small town America. I know I will eventually return for seconds. I highly recommend it. ( )
  rainpebble | Dec 2, 2016 |
I could not finish because this author bores me. Therefore, no star rating. This is not a review; I did not read all of it. This is only a comment on what I did read.
  techeditor | Nov 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 149 (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 editionscalculated
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)

(summary from another edition)

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