Empire Falls – book review

Empire Falls

Richard Russo

Richard Russo's Empire Falls is about a small town in Maine where the main sources of work, the mills, have been shut down and sold off by the Whitings, the richest family in town.  The main character, Miles Roby, runs the Empire Grill for Frances Whiting, the matriarch of the town who controls everything even though her late husband's company is now defunct.  The novel includes a large cast of characters from all classes, and each one develops into something different by the end of the book. 

Sometimes I'll pick up a prize-winning book and wonder, other than pretension, what qualified the book for the prize.  This book is completely devoid of pretension, and it is one of the best character studies I've read.  Reading this book, you will recognize each character as someone you have met or could imagine meeting in daily life.  He expertly crafts their relationships with each other as well.  The novel provoked me to wonder when it is acceptable for people to make assumptions about others.  Does the fact that some of your assumptions are correct give you more of a right to make them?  A few of the characters seem to think so.

Russo has a knack for dialog and characterization that makes his prose a pleasure to read.  There were several passages I went back to read again because they were so cleverly written.  This is a slowly paced novel, something that usually bores me, but Russo's writing style is so wonderful that I was willing to go wherever the story took me.  He is also masterful at injecting humor without diminishing the impact of a serious topic.

I highly recommend this book.  Now I'm going to rent the HBO special to see how it measures up to the book.

#1 of 50 in 365

Currently reading:  Don't Look Back – Karin Fossum

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