Friday Favorites: Empire Falls

Friday, February 5, 2010

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 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, while his relationship with his teenage daughter remains the one that sustains him.

At the time I didn't realize it was a Pulitzer-Prize winner. I didn't know they had already 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 that it's hard to ever separate 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.

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.

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