Empire Falls

Empire Falls

by Richard Russo

Paperback(Reprint)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375726408
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/12/2002
Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 93,833
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.98(h) x 1.05(d)

About the Author

Richard Russo is the author of eight novels; two collections of stories; and Elsewhere, a memoir. In 2002 he received the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls, which like Nobody’s Fool was adapted to film, in a multiple-award-winning HBO miniseries.

Hometown:

Gloversville, New York

Date of Birth:

July 15, 1949

Place of Birth:

Johnstown, New York

Education:

B.A., University of Arizona, 1967; Ph.D., University of Arizona, 1979; M.F.A., University of Arizona, 1980

Read an Excerpt

PROLOGUECompared to the Whiting mansion in town, the house Charles Beaumont Whiting built a decade after his return to Maine was modest. By every other standard of Empire Falls, where most single-family homes cost well under seventy-five thousand dollars, his was palatial, with five bedrooms, five full baths, and a detached artist's studio. C. B. Whiting had spent several formative years in old Mexico, and the house he built, appearances be damned, was a mission-style hacienda. He even had the bricks specially textured and painted tan to resemble adobe. A damn-fool house to build in central Maine, people said, though they didn't say it to him.Like all Whiting males, C.B. was a short man who disliked drawing attention to the fact, so the low-slung Spanish architecture suited him to a T. The furniture was of the sort used in model homes and trailers to give the impression of spaciousness; this optical illusion worked well enough except on those occasions when large people came to visit, and then the effect was that of a lavish dollhouse.The hacienda--as C. B. Whiting always referred to it--was built on a tract of land the family had owned for several generations. The first Whitings of Dexter County had been in the logging business, and they'd gradually acquired most of the land on both sides of the Knox River so they could keep an eye on what floated by on its way to the ocean, some fifty miles to the southeast. By the time C. B. Whiting was born, Maine had been wired for electricity, and the river, dammed below Empire Falls at Fairhaven, had lost much of its primal significance. The forestry industry had moved farther north and west, and the Whiting family had branched out into textiles and paper and clothing manufacture.Though the river was no longer required for power, part of C. B. Whiting's birthright was a vestigial belief that it was his duty to keep his eye on it, so when the time came to build his house, he selected a site just above the falls and across the Iron Bridge from Empire Falls, then a thriving community of men and women employed in the various mills and factories of the Whiting empire. Once the land was cleared and his house built, C.B. would be able to see his shirt factory and his textile mill through the trees in winter, which, in mid-Maine, was most of the year. His paper mill was located a couple miles upstream, but its large smokestack billowed plumes of smoke, sometimes white and sometimes black, that he could see from his back patio.By moving across the river, C. B. Whiting became the first of his clan to acknowledge the virtue of establishing a distance from the people who generated their wealth. The family mansion in Empire Falls, a huge Georgian affair, built early in the previous century, offered fieldstone fireplaces in every bedroom and a formal dining room whose oak table could accommodate upwards of thirty guests beneath half a dozen glittering chandeliers that had been transported by rail from Boston. It was a house built to inspire both awe and loyalty among the Irish, Polish and Italian immigrants who came north from Boston, and among the French Canadians, who came south, all of them in search of work. The old Whiting mansion was located right in the center of town, one block from the shirt factory and two from the textile mill, built there on purpose, if you could believe it, by Whiting men who worked fourteen-hour days, walked home for their noon meal and then returned to the factory, often staying far into the night.As a boy, C.B. had enjoyed living in the Whiting mansion. His mother complained constantly that it was old, drafty and inconvenient to the country club, to the lake house, to the highway that led south to Boston, where she preferred to shop. But with its extensive, shady grounds and its numerous oddly shaped rooms, it was a fine place to grow up in. His father, Honus Whiting, loved the place too, especially that only Whitings had ever lived there. Honus's own father, Elijah Whiting, then in his late eighties, still lived in the carriage house out back with his ill-tempered wife. Whiting men had a lot in common, including the fact that they invariably married women who made their lives a misery. C.B.'s father had fared better in this respect than most of his forebears, but still resented his wife for her low opinion of himself, of the Whiting mansion, of Empire Falls, of the entire backward state of Maine, to which she felt herself cruelly exiled from Boston. The lovely wrought iron gates and fencing that had been brought all the way from New York to mark the perimeter of the estate were to her the walls of her prison, and every time she observed this, Honus reminded her that he held the key to those gates and would let her out at any time. If she wanted to go back to Boston so damn bad, she should just do it. He said this knowing full well she wouldn't, for it was the particular curse of the Whiting men that their wives remained loyal to them out of spite.By the time their son was born, though, Honus Whiting was beginning to understand and privately share his wife's opinion, as least as it pertained to Empire Falls. As the town mushroomed during the last half of the nineteenth century, the Whiting estate gradually was surrounded by the homes of mill workers, and of late the attitude of the people doing the surrounding seemed increasingly resentful. The Whitings had traditionally attempted to appease their employees each summer by throwing gala socials on the family grounds, but it seemed to Honus Whiting that many of the people who attended these events anymore were singularly ungrateful for the free food and drink and music, some of them regarding the mansion itself with hooded expressions that suggested their hearts wouldn't be broken if it burned to the ground.Perhaps because of this unspoken but growing animosity, C. B. Whiting had been sent away, first to prep school, then to college. Afterward he'd spent the better part of a decade traveling, first with his mother in Europe (which was much more to that good woman's liking than Maine) and then later on his own in Mexico (which was much more to his liking than Europe, where there'd been too much to learn and appreciate). While many European men towered over him, those in Mexico were shorter, and C. B. Whiting especially admired that they were dreamers who felt no urgency about bringing their dreams to fruition. But his father, who was paying for his son's globe-trotting, finally decided his heir should return home and start contributing to the family fortune instead of squandering as much as he could south of the border. Charles Beaumont Whiting was by then in his late twenties, and his father was coming to the reluctant conclusion that his only real talent was for spending money, though the young man claimed to be painting and writing poetry as well. Time to put an end to both, at least in the old man's view. Honus Whiting was fast approaching his sixtieth birthday, and though glad he'd been able to indulge his son, he now realized he'd let it go on too long and that the boy's education in the family businesses he would one day inherit was long overdue. Honus himself had begun in the shirt factory, then moved over to the textile mill, and finally, when old Elijah had lost his mind one day and tried to kill his wife with a shovel, took over the paper mill upriver. Honus wanted his son to be prepared for the inevitable day when he, too, would lose his marbles and assault Charles's mother with whatever weapon came to hand. Europe had not improved her opinion of himself, of Empire Falls or of Maine, as he had hoped it might. In his experience people were seldom happier for having learned what they were missing, and all Europe had done for his wife was encourage her natural inclination toward bitter and invidious comparison.For his part, Charles Beaumont Whiting, sent away from home as a boy when he would've preferred to stay, now had no more desire to return from Mexico than his mother had to return from Europe, but when summoned he sighed and did as he was told, much as he always had done. It wasn't as if he hadn't known that the end of his youth would arrive, taking with it his travels, his painting and his poetry. There was never any question that Whiting and Sons Enterprises would one day devolve to him, and while it occurred to him that returning to Empire Falls and taking over the family businesses might be a violation of his personal destiny as an artist, there didn't seem to be any help for it. One day, when he sensed the summons growing near, he tried to put down in words what he felt to be his own best nature and how wrong it would be to thwart his true calling. His idea was to share these thoughts with his father, but what he'd written sounded a lot like his poetry, vague and unconvincing even to him, and he ended up throwing the letter away. For one thing he wasn't sure his father, a practical man, would concede that anybody had a nature to begin with; and if you did, it was probably your duty either to deny it or to whip it into shape, show it who was boss. During his last months of freedom in Mexico, C.B. lay on the beach and argued the point with his father in his imagination, argued it over and over, losing every time, so when the summons finally came he was too worn out to resist. He returned home determined to do his best but fearing that he'd left his real self and all that he was capable of in Mexico.What he discovered was that violating his own best nature wasn't nearly as unpleasant or difficult as he'd imagined. In fact, looking around Empire Falls, he got the distinct impression that people did it every day. And if you had to violate your destiny, doing so as a Whiting male wasn't so bad. To his surprise he also discovered that it was possible to be good at what you had little interest in, just as it had been possible to be bad at something, whether painting or poetry, that you cared about a great deal. While the shirt factory held no attraction for him, he demonstrated something like an aptitude for running it, for understanding the underlying causes of what went wrong and knowing instinctively how to fix the problem. He was also fond of his father and marveled at the little man's energy, his quick anger, his refusal to knuckle under, his conviction that he was always right, his ability to justify whatever course of action he ultimately chose. Here was a man who was either in total harmony with his nature or had beaten it into perfect submission. Charles Beaumont Whiting was never sure which, and probably it didn't matter; either way the old man was worth emulating.Still, it was clear to C. B. Whiting that his father and grandfather had enjoyed the best of what Whiting and Sons Enterprises had to offer. The times were changing, and neither the shirt factory, nor the textile mill, nor the paper mill upriver was as profitable as all once had been. Over the last two decades there had been attempts to unionize all the factories in Dexter County, and while these efforts failed--this being Maine, not Massachusetts--even Honus Whiting agreed that keeping the unions out had proved almost as costly as letting them in would've been. The workers, slow to accept defeat, were both sullen and unproductive when they returned to their jobs.Honus Whiting had intended, of course, for his son to take up residence in the Whiting mansion as soon as he took a wife and old Elijah saw fit to quit the earth, but a decade after C.B. abandoned Mexico, neither of these events had come to pass. C. B. Whiting, something of a ladies' man in his warm, sunny youth, seemed to lose his sex drive in frosty Maine and slipped into an unintended celibacy, though he sometimes imagined his best self still carnally frolicking in the Yucatán.Perhaps he was frightened by the sheer prospect of matrimony, of marrying a girl he would one day want to murder.Elijah Whiting, now nearing one hundred, had not succeeded in killing his wife with the shovel, nor had he recovered from the disappointment. The two of them still lived in the carriage house, old Elijah clinging to his misery and his bitter wife clinging to him. He seemed, the old man's doctor observed, to be dying from within, the surest sign of which was an almost biblical flatulence. He'd been turning the air green inside the carriage house for many years now, but all the tests showed that the old fossil's heart remained strong, and Honus realized it might be several years more before he could make room for his son by moving into the carriage house himself. After all, it would require a good year to air out even if the old man died tomorrow. Besides which, Honus's own wife had already made clear her intention never to move into the carriage house, and she lately had become so depressed by the idea of dying in Maine that he'd been forced to buy her a small rowhouse in Boston's Back Bay, where she claimed to have grown up, which of course was untrue. South Boston was where Honus had found her, and where he would have left her, too, if he'd had any sense. At any rate, when Charles came to him one day and announced his intention to build a house of his own and to put the river between it and Empire Falls, he understood and even approved. Only later, when the house was revealed to be a hacienda, did he fear that the boy might be writing poems again.Not to worry. Earlier that year, C. B. Whiting had been mistaken for his father on the street, and that same evening, when he studied himself in the mirror, he saw why. His hair was beginning to silver, and there was a certain terrier-like ferocity in his eyes that he hadn't noticed before. Of the younger man who had wanted to live and die in Mexico and dream and paint and write poetry there was now little evidence. And last spring when his father had suggested that he run not only the shirt factory but also the textile mill, instead of feeling trapped by the inevitability of the rest of his life, he found himself almost happy to be coming more completely into his birthright. Men had starting calling him C.B. instead of Charles, and he liked the sound of it.


From the Hardcover edition.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Rich, humorous, elegantly constructed . . . Easily Mr. Russo’s most seductive book thus far.”–The New York Times

“Russo writes with a warm, vibrant humanity.... A stirring mix of poignancy, drama and comedy.” —The Washington Post

“Russo is one of the best novelists around.” –The New York Times Book Review

“The history of American literature may show that Richard Russo wrote the last great novel of the 20th century.” –Christian Science Monitor

“Nobody does small-town life better than Richard Russo.” –Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Reading Group Guide

PULITZER PRIZE WINNER
NATIONAL BESTSELLER
Time magazine Best Novel of the Year

“Rich, humorous, elegantly constructed. . . . Easily Mr. Russo’s most seductive book thus far.” —The New York Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your reading group’s discussion of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls, a wonderfully evocative portrait of a small town in Maine.

1. Richard Russo’s description of Empire Falls is as memorable and vivid as his portraits of the people who live there. How do the details he provides about the town, including its streets, buildings, and neighborhoods, create a more than physical backdrop against which the story is played out? How does his use of flashbacks strengthen the reader’s sense of the town as a living character?

2. “One of the good things about small towns, Miles’s mother had always maintained, was that they accommodated just about everyone” [p. 21]. Is this an accurate description of Empire Falls? Which characters in particular benefit from this attitude? What influences the level of tolerance Miles is willing to extend to Max Roby, Walt Comeau, and Jimmy Minty, all of whom are constant irritants to him? What does he see as their redeeming characteristics?

3. Why is Miles’s relationship with Tick so important to him? In what ways is it reminiscent of his mother’s attachment to him? How do Grace’s expectations for Miles, as well as her ultimate disappointment in him, shape the way he is raising Tick?

4. Even before the full story of Grace and Max’s marriage is revealed, what hints are there that Grace was less than the ideal wife and mother of Miles’s memory? Why does Miles choose to accept his mother’s version of events concerning their trip to Martha’s Vineyard, even though it entails a betrayal of his father [pp. 133–50]? When Miles finally realizes who Charlie Mayne is, does it change his feelings about Grace in a significant way? Would he have felt differently if Grace were still alive and able to answer his questions [pp. 338–39]? How does Miles’s own situation—particularly his separation from Janine and his discovery of the relationship between Charlene and David—color his reaction to his mother’s affair? How does his brief conversation with Max about Grace and Charlie [p. 373] shed light on the relationship between father and son?

5. Janine calls Miles “The World’s Most Transparent Man” [p. 42], and Tick says, “It’s not like you don’t have any [secrets]. . . . It’s just that everybody figures them out” [p. 107]. Does Mrs. Whiting share this view of Miles? What evidence is there that she sees and understands more about the “real” Miles than the people closest to him?

6. How does Russo use minor characters to develop the main figures? What roles do Horace Weymouth, Bea Majeski, Charlene Gardiner, and Otto Meyer play in shaping your impressions of and opinions about Miles, Janine, and Tick?

7. How do David’s feelings about Mrs. Whiting and the Empire Grill differ from Miles’s? Whose attitude is more realistic? Is David’s harsh criticism of Miles’s passivity [pp. 224–25] justified? What insight does it give you into David’s character? Is David more content with his life than Miles is, and if so, why?

8. Charlene tells Miles, “David has this theory that between your mom and dad and him and you there’s, like, one complete person” [p. 226]. Has each member of the family selected a particular role, or have their positions been thrust upon them? Is the division of roles a natural part of family life? Which member of the Roby family is the “most complete”? Did this strong individual identity come at the expense of anything else?

9. What does Father Mark offer Miles that he cannot get from his other relationships? Is Miles drawn to him only because he is a priest? Why does Russo depict both priests as flawed men, Father Mark with his sexual longings, and Father Tom with dementia? How would you characterize the impact of Catholicism on Miles and Grace? Does attending church genuinely comfort them, or is it a convenient way of hiding from the problems in their lives and the decisions they have made? In what ways does Grace’s confession to Father Tom and the penance he demands affect her outlook on life?

10. Why does Tick befriend John Voss? How does her sense of responsibility for him compare to Miles’s feelings, both as a child and as a grown man, about Cindy Whiting? Are the differences attributable to the circumstances that bring each pair together, or do they reflect something deeper about Tick’s and Miles’s morality and their abilities to empathize with other people? What other incidents demonstrate Tick’s understanding of what other people need? Why is she unable to treat Janine in the same comfortable, non-judgmental way she treats Miles and Max Roby?

11. Would you define Mrs. Whiting as a “mother figure” for Miles? Does she perceive herself in this way? Does Miles? Beneath their very different personas, what traits do Mrs. Whiting and Grace share? Do they represent the strengths and weaknesses usually associated with women? In what ways does Mrs. Whiting’s description of her relationship with Grace [p. 435] reaffirm their similarities? Which woman is more honest with herself about her motivations and feelings?

12. All of the marriages in Empire Falls fail in one way or another. Does your sense of who is responsible for each marital breakdown change as the events of the past and present unfold? Discuss the contrasts between the ways each of these marriages is initially described and the “real” stories: Grace and Max; Mr. and Mrs. Whiting; Miles and Janine; Janine and Walt. Mrs. Whiting says, “Most people . . . marry the wrong people for all the wrong reasons. For reasons so absurd they can’t even remember what they were a few short months after they’ve pledged themselves forever” [p. 169]. How does this assessment apply to the marriages mentioned above?

13. From the almost unimaginable cruelty of John Voss’s parents to Mrs. Whiting’s coldness toward Cindy, to Grace’s withdrawal from David (and to some extent Miles) when she joins the Whiting household, the novel contains several examples of the emotional and physical harm parents inflict on their children. Why do you think Russo made this a central theme of the book? Does it adequately explain or even justify behavior you would otherwise find completely unacceptable?

14. Empire Falls traces three very different families—the Whitings, the Robys, and the Mintys—through several generations. What do each of these families represent in the context of American society? How do their fates embody the economic and social changes that have occurred over the last century? To what extent are the members of the current generation trapped by the past?

15. What does Empire Falls provide that its residents might not be able to find anywhere else? Does living in a small town necessarily limit the satisfaction people get out of life? Is Miles right when he thinks, “After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their hearts’ impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time” [p. 295]? Which characters might have led better, more fulfilling lives if they had moved away from Empire Falls?

16. In contemplating the past year, Tick reflects, “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. . . . ‘Slow’ works on an altogether different principle, on the deceptive impression that there’s plenty of time to prepare” [p. 441]. How does this relate to the novel as a whole and the way it is structured? Why has Russo chosen Tick to express this insight?

17. What adjectives would you use to describe Empire Falls? How does Russo make the story of a dying town (with more than its share of losers) entertaining and engaging? Did you find most, if not all, of the characters sympathetic in some way?

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Empire Falls 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 209 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read the reviews to get a feel for how others have liked or disliked a novel but I do not appreciate the major spoiler disclosed by the February 2010 writer. Come on people! Sheesh.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When my mom recommended this book, I was a little skeptical- her taste and mine don't necessarily mesh. From around the third page, I could see why she enjoyed this book. Great subtle humor from the main character's perspective! You can envision living in Empire Falls, because it is not so different from many small towns in America. As a mom, I was interested in the relationship between Tick and her mother, as well as her and her father's relationship. Overall, a wonderful read for just about anyone. Even my sister wants to read it now after how I said what a good book it is, and she doesn't even like to read! This would be a great book for book club discussion as well.
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first started reading it, I wondered, 'what is this book going to be ABOUT?' By the time I was halfway through, I was so involved with the character's lives that the plot evolved without my realizing it. Engaging, insightful, heartbreaking, a wonderful read, fully accessible to all readers. Empire Falls, a small town economically ruled for many years by the Whiting family in Maine, begins to lose over the years the 'ROYAL' family and their influence. The true power lies not with this wealthy family, but with the force of HUMAN WILL POWER 'whether a WHITING or a NON-WHITING'. The constant question that arose: what WILL these characters do now with his/her given challenge?
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a wondrous book. It has a sweeping scope but is artful, well-crafted and highly entertaining. Russo shows a deep understanding of all human instincts and relationships in this novel about a small town in Maine and its inhabitants. The characters are well-rounded, their foibles treated as compassionately as their virtues. As Miles Roby repeatedly puts his dreams on hold, his teen-aged daughter takes on supreme importance for him. Miles' epiphany and the denoument are completely satisfying.
eagle3tx More than 1 year ago
Disappointed. Not interesting, not compelling, not novel -- I agree that the characters are well-written, but I could neither identify with nor have empathy for the majority of them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An astonishing study of the livelihoods of middle class America.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I finished reading this book about five years ago...and I still miss the characters to this day. You instantly love them and are pulling for them to succeed from the first time you meet them.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read. The chararcters are well developed not only in their strengths but also their imperfections and shortcomings. The plot and sub plots come together nicely and meaningfully in the end
Guest More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo's 'Empire Falls' is so simple, so sweet and so movingly beautiful that even the grayness of the town the story is set in seems a bit brighter. I got a chance to shake Russo's hand when he visited Milwaukee a few years ago. I had to thank him for writing what is quite possibly the first great book of the 21st century. Once you start reading, you'll never stop. The characters in this book are so vivid, you'd think you know them personally. I just reread this book about a month ago and, like the first time, it killed me to close upon the final page. Kudos to Russo!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read. Incredible story that is wonderfully written. The characters are real, gritty and true. The 'Amazing Catch' from Miles, gotta love it. It reminds me of 'Winter of Our Discontent' by Steinbeck. But to me the charaters in Empire Falls are more developed and seperated rather than seeming like one big personal allegory. Falls is the story about Miles, the good (and unsexy) man that has had some bad breaks. Give it a read. It is very good.
Guest More than 1 year ago
My husband and I both love to read, but we don't always read the same thing. One day, out of desperation with nothing to read, I picked up this book, not realizing that I struck on a gold mine. I have all Richard's books, I have read, Nobody's Fool, and am now Reading Straight Man. Richard Russo is a gifted writer and I enjoy his books very very much!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has all the makings of a great novel. After you read it, you will understand why it won the pulitzer prize. The characters have a depth that is exceptional. You won't be disappointed with the time you spend reading this one!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Richard Russo creates a highly realistic fictional world that anyone who has lived in a small town can relate to. The story and characters are so tightly knit and carefully animated that one cannot help but to become immersed in Miles Roby's life and the lives of everyone in Empire Falls. What I like best about this novel is the way in which Miles 'comes of age' himself. Nothing pretentious, cliche, or ordinary about how, at 42, Miles finally overcomes the one mountain that has been holding him back. What a great study of human character...Russo's observations of human behavior are precise and well-developped.
rslynch on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This book pretty much bored me to death. It's slow and full of itself. As is generally the case when I cannot trudge through fully and the movie is available, I watched a section of the movie miniseries on HBO or Showtime...I turned it off so many times just to get away from it that it took a week.
lasweave on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Enjoyed the book but it got a little drawn out in the middle. I had been forewarned that something unexpected happens at the end so I was reading with that in mind and trying to figure out what it was going to be. I wasn't right....the story didn't go where I thought it was going to ...which was actually a good thing.
readingrat on LibraryThing 1 days ago
This book is not only a wonderful study of small town life, with expertly crafted characters, it is the type of story that slowly creeps up on you as the book progresses, leaving you pleasantly surprised at the end with just how good it was.
lauralkeet on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Miles Roby lives in the small town of Empire Falls, Maine. Once a thriving textile mill town, Empire Falls now suffers from lack of economic development. Miles runs the Empire Grill, a job he has held since leaving college to care for his dying mother. He is separated from his wife Janine, who is about to remarry. Miles and Janine share responsibility for their teenage daughter Tick (a nickname for Christina), who is having a hard time with Janine's new relationship. Miles' elderly father, Max, is a ne'er-do-well who rarely has two pennies to rub together and is always looking to Miles for a handout. The Empire Grill is actually owned by Francine Whiting, wealthy widow of textile magnate C.B. Whiting. Francine holds a strange power of Miles, having made vague promises that the grill would become his upon her death. And it turns out Mrs. Whiting has exerted power of Miles most of his life. Why would Mrs. Whiting care about Miles? How did their lives become intertwined? As Miles goes about his daily routine, the answers to these questions gradually become clear. The novel unfolds at a slow pace, with Russo first painting detailed portraits of all the major characters. Then there are occasional chapters in which Miles remembers events from his past. These episodes are retold from Miles' point of view at the time. Memories of a childhood vacation, or of learning to drive, are described with the perspective of a child, who may not always understand the intricacies of adult relationships or of "real life." Yet it's through these episodes that the reader begins to see how and why the Roby and Whiting families have become intertwined. While Miles' relationship with Mrs. Whiting provides the central tension in the novel, there are several equally rich sub-plots that are explored in similar depth. The residents of Empire Falls have grown up there together; high school friendships and rivalries play out in adulthood. And for Tick, that cycle is only just beginning, as she learns to navigate the sometimes painful paths of adolescent relationships.Reading Empire Falls, I began to feel as if I knew these people. I found myself thinking about them when I wasn't reading; they were very real to me and will likely linger in my memory for some time.
LynnB on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Empire Falls is the story of a one-industry town that has lost its industry. The people who live in the town are the real focus of this book, and I was drawn into their lives as if I, too, were a resident.For most of the book, it appeared that it wouldn't be driven by plot. The story didn't build towards one seminal event, much as real life rarely does. Rather, it is a series of events, some major, others less so, and it's not always immediately clear which are which. I liked that aspect of the book very much.This is the story of MIles Roby, who runs the Empire Grill with his brother David. Miles is about to be divorced from Janine, who in turn is about to be married to a youth-obsessed fitness guru. Miles' daughter, Tick, is in high school, and her story about being popular (or not) is very well told.Towards the end, the book becomes more plot driven, but doesn't lose its focus on Miles' character, which is its real strength.
bookworm12 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Empire Falls was my first introduction to the writing of Richard Russo. I've since read more of his work including some that weren't my favorite, Straight Man and That Old Cape Magic, and one that I loved, Bridge of Sighs. But none of those have hit me in quite the same way that Empire Falls did.Empire Falls is a small, fictional town in Maine. One rich family has ruled the roost for decades, while the small businesses slowly decay. The story is told from Miles Roby's point-of-view. He's a simple man, who runs the town's diner. His wife is divorcing him; his father is constantly belittling him, while his relationship with his teenage daughter remains the one that sustains him.At the time I didn't realize it was a Pulitzer-Prize winner. I didn't know they had already made it into a miniseries (featuring Paul Newman in his last live action role). It was just a book. Sometimes the simplicity of reading something with no expectations or preconceived notions allows you to evaluate it with more honesty. It allows you to let it impact you in whatever way it will, as opposed to assuming you'll love or hate it based on what you've already heard.One of Russo's greatest talents is his ability to craft characters that are so complex and believable that you forget they aren't real people you know. They are all layered and their lives are so interconnected that it's hard to ever separate them. There are no true villains or heroes. They are all flawed. There are some you love more than others, but it's certainly not because they're perfect.My simple summary of the plot does not do it justice. The book is wonderful not because of the plot, but because of the characters. And you can't summarize those.
supermanboidy on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Empire Falls is a small town in Maine with more problems than most of us are used to, and yet you find yourself yearning to return time and time again throughout the novel. A cast of characters that are constantly developing and revealing themselves in very relatable terms. I definitely recommend this book, you'll be sad to see it end.
Jenners26 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Words that describe the book: Small town life3 Settings where it took place or characters you met: 1. Setting: Empire Falls, Maine, not too long ago but not present day 2. Miles Roby¿The quintessential "nice guy," Miles has been working at the Empire Grill for more than 20 years¿a fact that would have killed his mother Grace if she hadn't died of cancer years before. Divorced and still pining for his long ago crush, Miles's life centers around his daughter Tick, whose passage through high school is anything but easy. 3. Francine Whiting¿The richest woman in town, Francine Whiting seemingly controls every aspect of town life. Yet her interest in Miles seems to go beyond casual¿causing Miles to look to his past to find out what binds the Roby and Whiting families together.4 Things you liked and/or disliked about it: 1. I liked how Russo takes his time developing the characters. Although the story is told primarily through Miles's eyes, we also get to know his ex-wife Janine, Tick, his brother David, his father Max, his neighbor and nemesis Jimmy Minty and a host of other residents who populate the town. My personal favorite was Miles's father Max, who was so laughably awful and foul and direct that you just gotta love him. 2. I liked how Russo lets the story develop slowly before letting it rip loose. At points, I wasn't sure if anything was going to happen or if the book was simply a portrait of small town America. In many ways, the book was like a roller coaster. There is a slow steady upward climb until you reach the top of the hill and come flying down the other side, dizzy from the speed and twists and turns. 3. I liked how Russo weaves several plot lines together to create a rich tapestry of stories. We explore Miles's childhood and his mother's secrets, Tick's difficulties at school and her attempt to reach out to a troubled boy, and the tragic story of Francine Whiting's daughter Cindy. Interwoven with these primary story lines are countless little moments that bring into focus the other residents of the town. 4. I liked the depth and breadth of the book. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, and I think it is worthy of the honor. In many ways, it is an "epic" novel that keeps it focus tightly on one little town while demonstrating that every small town and every regular person has a story worth telling.5 Stars or less for your rating?I'm giving the book 4.5 stars. Give yourself time to read this book; it isn't a book to be rushed through. Be patient as you get to know the residents of Empire Falls and learn their stories. You'll find the the characters will stay with you long after reading. And unlike many "important" prize-winning books, Empire Falls is very readable, accessible and understandable. It is filled with sadness, humor, love, passion, hate, selfishness and all the other emotions that make up all of our lives. The fact that I can recall almost all of the characters names and the plot lines without looking them up even though I read the book at the beginning of January should tell you something!
amandacb on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I read this book twice trying to get myself to like it; alas, I never did. I was inexplicably detached from Miles; he never felt fully formed to me. The rest of the characters in the book seemed exactly that--characters, not real people. A disappointment from Russo.
elsyd on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I really enjoy Richard Russo's books. While I wouldn't say this is a great book, he is a master of priceless vignettes. His characters are either wonderfully real or totally absurd.
KAzevedo on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I think what I enjoyed most about Empire Falls was the incredible subtlety with which the tension builds. As I came to know the characters ever more deeply, a sense of dread began to build. The vengeance carried out by Mrs. Whiting upon the town of Empire Falls was masterfully, yet insidiously detailed. Sometimes it seemed as if the threads of the peoples' lives were unrelated, but one begins to understand the interconnectedness of their relationships and how the past has determined the course of their lives. None of the characters are one-dimensional; there is no one who is singularly good or evil. Rather, one comes to realize and believe the reasons for their actions. This understanding makes for a rich story about the people and the town of Empire Falls, one I will remember.
debnance on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Life in a small town. Russo can get inside people's heads. I like that.I liked this book. I thought it was very true. These characters are myfriends, my relatives here in my little town.I give Empire Falls an 8.5.