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Van's Pick: Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Milo Roby tries to hold his family together while working at the Empire Grill in the once-successful logging town of Empire Falls, Maine, with his partner, Mrs. Whiting, who is the heir to a faded logging and textile legacy.

Richard Russo is one of American’s great novelists and a former university English professor.   Many of his books have depicted small town life and his characterizations are usually vivid and realistic.   One of best novels in my opinion is Empire Falls, which was not only a national bestseller but a Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction.   HBO made the book into a two part miniseries starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward and it won an Emmy and a Golden Globe. 

The novel begins with Miles Roby who has been slinging burgers at Empire Grill for twenty years.   The people in his inner circle include Tick his teenage daughter who is having boyfriend and school issues, Janine, his ex wife who has lost a great deal of weight and is dating a local gym owner, his brother David whose lineage is questionable, his deadbeat father who tries to steal from him, and a local gay priest who is his confidante.  There is also Francine Whiting who owns everything in town trying to control everyone’s lives including Miles’ existence.    Russo often uses omniscient narration where he gets inside the minds of many secondary characters.  The reader will really feel part of the characters lives all the way to the violent conclusion by novel’s end.  


Like many of Russo’s works, this novel is long but it is worth plowing forward to the end.   There is quite a bit of humor and drama throughout.   There are a few twists in the story.   The prose is descriptive and prosaic and the author had a deep feel for the character dialogue.   Miles’ love for his daughter is definitely evident.    Francine Whiting is a worthy protagonist that reminds me of Mr. Potter from the film It’s a Wonderful Life.   One critic has called this a book of largely unremarkable events remarkably told and I wholeheartedly agree.   I strongly recommend watching the miniseries also.    I give this four out of five stars.    

- Van, Reference Librarian


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