Since I got pregnant I’ve been fighting a mean case of fatigue. It’s gotten better in the last month, but when it comes to my reading I’ve found I’m struggling to tackle new books that intimidate me. Instead I’ve been drawn to rereading old favorites. That’s included the Harry Potter series, Jane Austen’s Emma, and now Empire Falls. It’s been wonderful to return to books where I already know the characters and I can sink into the story easily.
by Richard Russo
Empire Falls was my first introduction to the writing of Richard Russo. I've since read more of his work including some that weren't my favorite, Straight Man and That Old Cape Magic, and one that I loved, Bridge of Sighs, but none of those have hit me in quite the same way that Empire Falls did.
Empire Falls is a small, fictional town in Maine. One rich family has ruled the roost for decades, while the small businesses slowly decay. The story is mainly told from Miles Roby's point-of-view. He's a simple man who runs the town's diner. His wife is divorcing him; his father is constantly belittling him, his brother is disappointed in him, but his relationship with his teenage daughter remains the one thing that sustains him.
At the time I didn't realize it was a Pulitzer-Prize winner. I didn't know it had already been made it into a miniseries (featuring Paul Newman in his last live action role). It was just a book. Sometimes the simplicity of reading something with no expectations or preconceived notions allows you to evaluate it with more honesty. It allows you to let it impact you in whatever way it will, as opposed to assuming you'll love or hate it based on what you've already heard.
One of Russo's greatest talents is his ability to craft characters that are so complex and believable that you forget they aren't real people you know. They are all layered and their lives are so interconnected with each other that it's sometimes hard to see them as individuals instead of just as a community. Their personalities are so defined by the way others view them and what is expected of them. There are no true villains or heroes. They are all flawed. There are some you love more than others, but it's certainly not because they're perfect.
BOTTOM LINE: My simple summary of the plot does not do it justice. The book is wonderful not because of the plot, but because of the characters and you can't summarize those. Rereading the book made me fall in love with it all over again. Empire Falls’ residents ache with longing for their dream deferred. They are so beautifully written that you feel like part of the community after only a few pages.
"A lively intellect, so much admired in a man, is seldom tolerated in a woman-or am I mistaken?”
"People who imagine themselves to be self-made seldom enjoy examining the process of manufacture in detail."