Empire Falls by Richard Russo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Yes. Yes. Yes. "O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful wonderful, and yet again wonderful, and after that, out of all whooping!"
In a very small nut shell (as the novel actually traces multiple plot lines, too many to summarize):
Miles Roby has been a fry-cook/manager at the Empire Grill for 20 years. This job is part of the burdening decision to return home when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and he just never left again. He gave up his education and much of his self-respect being trapped in this tunnel with a freight train coming towards him. So why continue to stay? Well, he has a life here now (or some semblance of one) and his beautiful daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school and her crazy-ass mother resides right here in Empire Falls. Then again, the divorce isn't quite final yet so maybe he's still harboring hope for Janine, Miles’s soon-to-be ex-wife, who is now engaged to the arrogant health club owner. Then again, it could be the woman pulling the puppet strings of small town life, Francine Whiting, who owns everything and everyone and keeps dangling the concept of prosperity in Miles's face. No matter the reason, Miles stays and in his roots a completely baffling and fascinating world unfolds.
Empire Falls , while slow to start (the prologue is basically chapter one), is a masterpiece of literature. The characterization and depth of development is amazing. I want to personally know Miles, and especially Tick. I didn't even entirely hate Max in the end, which is a feat of epic portions for an author, because Max in an entirely unlikeable character. The novel boasts an arrogant cast of sharp-tongued women, sarcastic old-men and characters ostentatious and stupid enough to serve as the ass end of everyone else's jokes; there is an overtone of comedic relief within the detrimental truth of every one-liner.
Set in Small Town, USA, Empire Falls really follows Miles Roby's life and his destruction - Empire FALLS - get it - (and eventual rebuild) of it. While this seems like a minimalist concept, that is the BEAUTY OF IT! In every scene, every character a reader sees some part of themselves. It's like your going along through life and finally recognizing in some way your counterpart in a person you never thought existed.
The novel is real. Raw. Unnerving.
It is the first Pulitzer Prize winner I've read that I liked - or even finished! (Insert the detrimental "boringness" of The Goldfinch )
Empire Falls is a must read. Must. Read.
View all my reviews