George V. Reilly

Review: Empire Falls

Empire Falls
Title: Empire Falls
Author: Richard Russo
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Publisher: Vintage
Copyright: 2001
Pages: 496
Keywords: fiction
Reading period: 22-23 August, 2007

Miles Roby is the manager of the Empire Grill on the main street of Empire Falls, a small Maine factory town whose time has passed. A quin­tes­sen­tial nice guy (i.e., con­gen­i­tal­ly unable to say ‘no’), his life is about to undergo huge changes as his wife, Janine, is divorcing him. Janine has already taken up with an obnoxious gym owner, known as the Silver Fox. The diner is owned by Mrs. Francine Whiting, whose husband’s family owned the mills that once brought prosperity to Empire Falls. Most of the town still dances to Mrs. Whiting’s tune. She shows a curious interest in Miles, which Miles eventually realizes masks a degree of malice occasioned by a secret affair between Miles’s mother, Grace, and Francine’s late husband, Charlie.

Russo’s characters are sharply and lovingly drawn. Miles himself; his family, including the sexually frustrated Janine, now blossoming under the attentions of the Silver Fox; his brother, David, maimed in a drunken accident; his adored daughter, Tick, all but friendless in high school; his reprobate father, Max, a shameless conman; his late mother, Grace, selfless and defeated; Francine, brilliant, cold, and au­to­crat­ic; and a host of minor characters.

By turns, it is funny, bit­ter­sweet, and oc­ca­sion­al­ly harrowing.

Highly rec­om­mend­ed.

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