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Empire Falls Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

In his biggest, boldest novel yet, the much-acclaimed author of Nobody's Fool and Straight Man subjects a full cross-section of a crumbling Maine mill town to piercing, compassionate scrutiny, capturing misfits, malefactors and misguided honest citizens alike in the steady beam of his prose. Wealthy, controlling matriarch Francine Whiting lives in an incongruous Spanish-style mansion across the river from smalltown Empire Falls, dominated by a long-vacant textile mill and shirt factory, once the center of her husband's family's thriving manufacturing dominion. In his early 40s, passive good guy Miles Roby, the son of Francine's husband's long-dead mistress, seems helpless to escape his virtual enslavement as longtime proprietor of the Whiting-owned Empire Grill, the town's most popular eatery, which Francine has promised to leave him when she dies. Miles's wife, Janine, is divorcing him and has taken up with an aging health club entrepreneur. In her senior year in high school, their creative but lonely daughter, Tick, is preoccupied by her parents' foibles and harassed by the bullying son of the town's sleazy cop who, like everyone else, is a puppet of the domineering Francine. Struggling to make some sense of her life, Tick tries to befriend a boy with a history of parental abuse. To further complicate things, Miles's brother, David, is suspected of dealing marijuana, and their rascally, alcoholic father is a constant annoyance. Miles and David's secret plan to open a competing restaurant runs afoul of Francine just as tragedy erupts at the high school. Even the minor members of Russo's large cast are fully fleshed, and forays into the past lend the narrative an extra depth and resonance. When it comes to evoking the cherished hopes and dreams of ordinary people, Russo is unsurpassed. (May)Forecast: A 100,000-copy first printing of this impressive effort would probably fly off shelves even without the support of a 16-city author tour, national advertising and promotion, national media appearances, bookmarks, posters and a reading group guide. Returning with a flourish to familiar smalltown territory after his foray into academia with Straight Man, Russo could make a splash on big-city bestseller lists.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.


This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (May 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679432477
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679432470
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.5 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (689 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #404,338 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Rick Russo is the author of six previous novels and THE WHORE'S CHILD, a collection of stories. In 2002, he received the Pulitzer Prize for EMPIRE FALLS. He lives with his wife in Camden, Maine, and Boston.
Photo credit Elena Seibert

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

174 of 183 people found the following review helpful By Debbie Lee Wesselmann TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 16, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The elegance of this 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning novel can be described best by one of his characters, teenager Tick, who decides "just because things happen slow doesn't mean you'll be ready for them." Miles, the central character of Russo's story, runs the Empire Grill in economically depressed Empire Falls, Maine. He ekes out a life hoping for parity: that his loyalty to the grill and to its wealthy owner Mrs. Whiting will result in his owning the business, that his patience with his daughter Tick will be rewarded with openness, that his soon-to-be-ex wife Janine will find what was lacking in him in her fiancé Walt, that his youthful failure to escape the town will have some redemption. But the complexity of Mrs. Whiting's interest in him remains out of his grasp, and the dynamics of Tick's life are largely hidden from him. Janine has a growing need for exactly what she hated so much about Miles. Worst of all, Miles sees himself as destined to remain a loser who gives and never gets. Russo explores the storylines of all these characters and others, allowing the reader intimate glimpses into their lives. In Empire Falls, relationships between husbands and wives and between parents and children are never simple. Russo's characters suffer in ways that are passionately ordinary - that is, until everything funnels into one explosive, extraordinary moment. I literally had to put the book down to absorb this climatic scene. That this scene was both prepared for and totally shocking speaks to the author's skill.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The characters are lively and sympathetic - even the ones that might be called villains - and despite the quiet nature of the narrative, it is a difficult book to put down.
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64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
I will admit that about halfway through Empire Falls, I put it away for a few days. Although fascinating in its nuance and delightful in its humor, it was beginning to plod (so I thought) and I began to wonder whether it quite deserved the prestiguous prize on its cover.

Little did I realize the expertise of its author. He knows exactly what he's doing, bringing a complex tale to a slow boil. When the fever of rumination breaks toward the end, when something big really does happen, the reader is that much more taken by it because Russo has done more than introduce the characters--he has brought you into their lives, into their heads, and you genuinely care about their fate. Every one of the citizens in Empire Falls is a real, complex, believable person. At least once I had to remind myself that this heartbreaking tale, so vividly funny and genuinely tragic, is a work of fiction.

That Russo teases humor from sadness in such a natural, graceful way would make The Empire Falls a remarkable book. What makes it literature is its relevance, its reality, the fact that it might as well be a true story.
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86 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette Klein on September 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is my first novel by Richard Russo and I was captivated by his ability to breathe life into a diverse group of characters. From protagonist Miles Roby to his irascible father Max, his hauntingly sad mother Grace, his nemesis Mrs. Whiting, his touching daughter Tick, and many more, we are treated to people described so vividly they come to life and seem like the people we might know and want to either hang out with or avoid at all costs if we lived in Empire Falls.
There are too many plot lines to detail, but they all are brought together nicely and no reader is left with unanswered questions thanks to an interesting epilogue.
All the problems of seeking a better life but being relegated to the blue collar life of a mill town whose mill has long closed, are embodied in Miles Roby, reluctant proprietor of the town's grill. In the opening pages he sees his teen-age daughter Tick walking home from school with a hunched back weighed down by her symbolic backpack representing all the problems she faces---the dissolution of her parents marriage, a stepfather she despises, a widening emotional gap with her mother, the dreaded loss of friends and social standing, and being coupled with the school's most tortured and disturbed student.
The story moves slowly but the characters are so richly drawn you will be totally engrossed and hard pressed to put this one down. When the story does reach its climax, there are plenty of shocks and surprises and a realization that life is not perfect and its flaws are with us forever to either cope with or be overwhelmed by.
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38 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Erik J. Fortmeyer on April 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is the first Richard Russo book I have ever read. A friend told me, between fits of giggling, how funny some of the scenes were in "Straight Man", one of his previous works, and convinced me to give Russo a try. I picked up a copy of "Empire Falls" and recently finished it just before it won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. At first, I was very surprised at this award, but the more I've thought about it, this does make sense. Russo in "Empire Falls" has perfectly captured a snippet of real, everyday life. There are what appear to be character development flaws, loose ends, unaddressed questions, and plenty of the mundane aspects of daily life that are open to criticism. However, despite what Hollywood shows us, THIS is what 98% of reality is like for all us "regular folks" and Russo has described this imperfection superbly.
The central character in this book is Miles Roby. He grew up in the dying fictional mill town of Empire Falls in central Maine and has never quite been able to escape from it. He is now 42 and running the Empire Grill hoping to succeed enough by hanging on to allow his beloved daughter nicknamed Tick to escape completely like he almost did. The cast of everyday characters unfolds from this common premise. Some are annoying (the Silver Fox), some endearing (Bea and David), some downright disturbing (John Voss), and some all-too-familiar (Max). You will feel anyone of them could be your neighbor, co-worker, or even a relative! Some metaphor's are obvious like the "weight of the World" in the form of Tick's huge school backpack, Miles' ever suffering mother's name of "Grace", or even Francine Robideaux as the Devil. Some are puzzling like the waitress-for-life Charlene or the banished to the boonies liberal Roman Catholic priest Father Mark. Small (all?
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