Saturday, December 6, 2014

84. "Empire Falls" by Richard Russo

Russo, Richard. Empire Falls. New York: Random House, 2001.

483 pages.

Reviewed by J. d’Artagnan Love

I have a slight obsession with diners. There is something about old-fashioned diners with a line of bar stools, the smell of hamburger grease in the air, and a constant stream of coffee into anxiously awaiting mugs that makes me feel at peace with the world. I’m not sure why exactly, but I love any story whether told on film or in print, that has something to do with an old-fashioned diner.

Empire Falls is the story of a failing town in Maine, and the diner that is the heartbeat of the community, the Empire Grill. Miles Roby runs the grill for the invidious Mrs. Whiting. Miles is unsatisfied with life in Empire Falls, though he isn’t really aware of it. He is kindly reminded by his brother, daughter, and life-long crush that he wants more for himself and that his deceased mother had always wanted more from him as well.

Empire Falls is a character-driven novel. It tells the story of a small American town and its inhabitants, how they came to be who they are, how their pasts are interwoven and how their futures depend the next choice that Mrs. Whiting will make. Russo is an enchanting and masterful story-teller and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this novel. Well-deserving of the Pulitzer, Empire Falls spirals into an unexpected climax that ties all the looped story lines together in a compelling and artful way. The title is apt as nearly everyone’s empire—Mrs. Whiting’s, Miles’, even John Voss’—falls by the story’s resolution.

I could not get enough of this book. I read it slowly, drinking it in as if I were sitting for coffee with Miles and the boys at the grill. It was a book that I didn’t want to end. I wanted to follow these characters through the rest of their lives. I imagine I will re-read this book several times and find something new to savor with each reading.

Empire Falls was turned into a TV miniseries that’s waiting in my Netflix queue. I’m excited to see how these characters will come to life on the “big screen. Empire Falls is by far one of the best books I’ve read in 2014.

5 darts out of 5

This book is FOR people who: like a character-driven read, can appreciate the literary artistry of a novel, and are interested in fictional depictions of small-town, American life.

This books is NOT FOR people who: want a fast-paced, action packed story, or are looking for a light romantic read (this story can get pretty heavy).

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