Thursday, June 7, 2012

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Overview from Barnes and Noble: 

Richard Russo—from his first novel, Mohawk, to his most recent, Straight Man—has demonstrated a peerless affinity for the human tragicomedy, and with this stunning new novel he extends even further his claims on the small-town, blue-collar heart of the country.

Dexter County, Maine, and specifically the town of Empire Falls, has seen better days, and for decades, in fact, only a succession from bad to worse. One by one, its logging and textile enterprises have gone belly-up, and the once vast holdings of the Whiting clan (presided over by the last scion’s widow) now mostly amount to decrepit real estate. The working classes, meanwhile, continue to eke out whatever meager promise isn’t already boarded up.

Miles Roby gazes over this ruined kingdom from the Empire Grill, an opportunity of his youth that has become the albatross of his daily and future life. Called back from college and set to work by family obligations—his mother ailing, his father a loose cannon—Miles never left home again. Even so, his own obligations are manifold: a pending divorce; a troubled younger brother; and, not least, a peculiar partnership in the failing grill with none other than Mrs. Whiting. All of these, though, are offset by his daughter, Tick, whom he guides gently and proudly through the tribulations of adolescence.

A decent man encircled by history and dreams, by echoing churches and abandoned mills, by the comforts and feuds provided by lifelong friends and neighbors, Miles is also a patient, knowing guide to the rich, hardscrabble nature of Empire Falls: fathers and sons and daughters, living and dead, rich and poor alike. Shot through with the mysteries of generations and the shattering visitations of the nation at large, it is a social novel of panoramic ambition, yet at the same time achingly personal. In the end, Empire Falls reveals our worst and best instincts, both our most appalling nightmares and our simplest hopes, with all the vision, grace and humanity of truly epic storytelling.
Winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

My thoughts:
This book has been sitting on my shelf for years.  Not a great recommendation, I know, but somehow it kept getting passed over for a different book.  Last week when I was browsing the digital audio books at the library I found this one and decided to give it a try.  I listened to it while running and doing housework and found it enjoyable.

Miles Roby is central to this novel.  In moving back and forth in what happened in the past to what is going on in the present, the reader gets a real sense of this town.  How the once thriving Empire Falls has lost so much since the days when the logging operation was up and running and they mills were producing enough dye to change the color of the water in the river.  Miles was a semester away from finishing college when he was called home by Mrs. Whiting, his mother's employer, to spend some time with his mother before she died.  Somehow he never left the town again, his part time job at the Empire Grill turned into his life and he married and had a daughter.  Most recently, his wife has decided to leave him for another man, his daughter is caught in the middle, and his brother is now sober after a drunk driving incident that left him unable to use one of his arms.

Miles continues to dream about Martha's Vineyard, where he and his mother spent a summer vacation years ago when he was nine.  He has been going there with friends for years each summer and it still represents an escape from reality for him.

The characters in this small town are shown in a real light.  They all have their secrets and flaws, but most of them are trying to do the best they can with what they have.  Their current lives are shaped to a large extent by their past.  The model of marriage they saw at home.  Can happiness be bought by being thin?  By having a lot of money?  By being idolized by the town for one thing or another?  How much does the the Catholic sense of guilt play into what it's members do in penance for their sins against others?  It shows that everyone's fate is wrapped up with everyone else's. we are never truly alone even when we feel alone and it can be hard to do the right thing or know what the right thing to do it is.

When I was looking this up on Barnes and Noble I was surprised to see that it was also a movie.  I am going to have to look and see if the library has it or if it is On Demand, as I would like to see how it was adapted for the screen.

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375726408
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/12/2002
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 496

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