With Empire Falls Richard Russo cements his reputation as one of America’s most compelling and compassionate storytellers. 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 in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.
My take: 4 looks
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2002, this book got off to a slow start for me. However, as the story continued, I found that I could not put it down.
Set in a depressed area, where textile manufacturing was once king, the town is now a shell of what it used to be, with one matriarch running the show, and not always benevolently. The protagonist, Miles, is a very likable guy, even if he's a little bit of a milquetoast. His father is hella irritating until the end, his ex-wife is irritating until the end, and the other supporting characters are the same: very real, flawed, and yet exceptional at the same time.
I loved the flow of the story. This is a depiction of real life. Miles' mother wants so much more for her son, and yet there is something about Empire Falls that draws him back. She herself has suffered a lost love, before she even had it. In turn, he wants so much for his daughter, and yet ... will she escape her hometown? Miles, too, suffers from the cruelest kind of love: unrequited. What exactly is the hold old Mrs. Whiting has on everyone? Does she have any other emotion rather than vengeance?
A lovely story of middle-America, with characters who are so real that you can pinpoint them in your own family. A wonderful, wonderful recommendation.