Damn the Man! Save the Empire… Falls! (Empire Falls by Richard Russo)

August 23, 2013 Blogging, Contemporary Fiction 31

What’s Shaking, Bookworms?

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I get a lot of book recommendations from my awesome readers, other bloggers, and folks I know in real life. It might, however, surprise you to know that SOMETIMES I actually listen! Why, just last week I was reading the newly certified awesome blog, Fourth Street Review, when Rory more or less told me that I absolutely had to read Empire Falls by Richard Russo. (Okay, she may just have listed it in a Top Ten Tuesday post. Whatever. I took it to heart.)

Richard Russo is one of those big name authors that for whatever reason I’d never read. I blame the fact that there are 80 bazillion books in existence. Anywho, after I read Rory’s post, I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to see if it was available on my local library’s digital site. Lo and behold, it was there, and there was NO WAIT LIST (which in itself is a miraculous occurrence.) I took it as a sign and dove in that very evening.

Empirefallsbookcover Empire Falls tells the tale of a small industrial town in Maine. Though it once flourished with textile mills and manufacturing, the town has fallen on hard times. The wealthy family that owned the mills, the Whitings, are still around and pulling the strings of the town’s dwindling population. Miles Roby, our protagonist, runs Empire Falls’s premiere (and only) diner, the Empire Grill. A whole cast of quirky small town characters fills the pages of this book (as well as the tables of the Empire Grill) with their foibles and antics.

I’m quite certain that I’m only making this association because there aren’t a whole lot of books set in Maine, but Empire Falls put me in mind of Stephen King’s Under the Dome in some ways. It was set in Maine, for starters. Then there was the unassuming fry cook main character (Miles in Empire Falls, Barbie in Under the Dome.) Plus, we even had a nasty father son bad apple team going on in Empire Falls in the form of crooked cop Jimmy Minty and his punk of a son Zach, which mirrored Big Jim and Junior… Only in a more realistic and less super villain context. (Mad props to Russo for crafting so many well rounded characters!)

In fact, Empire Falls began as such a slice of New England life tale, I was waiting for the dome to come down… Or really, for anything to happen. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the extended exposition. It was very well done, the characters had dimension, motivation, and feeling. Even Max Roby, Miles’s alcoholic layabout father had a certain charm about him. I found myself trying to figure out where to focus… The mysterious teen boy? The priest with dementia who kept trying to hear confessions? (The Father Tom and Max Roby dynamic duo cracked me up!) Or should I have been paying attention to the goings on of the Whiting family? The potential paternity scandal? How Horace kept kicking Walt’s butt at Gin Rummy?

Source: pixiv.net

Source: pixiv.net

For about 80 percent of the book, I felt like I was waiting and waiting for something to happen. And then? HULK SMASH! Everything kind of blew up and went nuts in Empire Falls. I mean, nobody turned GREEN or anything (though it would have been an amusing touch) but there’d been a long buildup of anger and frustration and whatnot that just had to get out.

I really enjoyed Empire Falls, but it has my emotions all a-twitter. I adored the characterization, and Russo really captured the essence of a once bustling town abandoned by its factories. I do think the ending might have been a touch over-the-top, but in my opinion, it had enough whimsy to counterbalance to the melodrama. All in all? I’d say you should give this one a read.

Have any of you Bookworms read Empire Falls? What did you think? The internet tells me there was also a movie made- anybody seen it? How does it hold up? Does anybody turn green, perchance? No? Well. Probably for the best. Just look at what happened to poor Elphaba. No one mourns the wicked.

31 Responses to “Damn the Man! Save the Empire… Falls! (Empire Falls by Richard Russo)”

  1. Mary

    I read it years ago and liked it – but I’m a big fan of RR. Love his earlier books as much or more than EF. You should check them out! I remember liking the film – parts were shot in the town where my daughter now lives.

  2. Megan M.

    Oh, Rexy, you’re so sexy!

    That has nothing to do with the book, but much like your Hulk gif, if the opportunity knocks, I have to quote it! Speaking of Under the Dome, have you been watching the show? I love it and I am unfettered by thoughts of what people were like in the book. My husband read it though and he told me how crazy things got with Big Jim and Junior. I doubt they can go that far on TV. And TV Barbie is delicious. FYI.

    • Words for Worms

      I have NOT been watching Under the Dome. I was so angry and punchy at the book I didn’t think watching the show would be a good idea… But Barbie… Hmmmm.

  3. Rory

    I do love this one. Whenever I think of the ‘banty little rooster” scene in the diner, I still laugh. I really enjoy Russo, he is a very quiet writer. I’m glad you liked it. I’ve enjoyed all of his books except for The Bridge of Sighs, which was okay.

    So excited you read it and now a few more might too!

  4. Wayne

    I might give this one a look. I was one of those kids that actually liked *Babbitt* and life in Zenith.

  5. Christy

    I read this one ten years ago and remember really enjoying it. I’m from Maine, and from a semi-recovering mill town like Empire Falls. In fact, they filmed parts of the miniseries adaptation in Skowhegan, Maine which was the town where I took my driving test as a teenager. So that was cool. (Overall though the book was better than the miniseries, though the miniseries was pretty faithful, IIRC). Anyway, at the time, I didn’t think the ending was over the top. I still remember clearly that scene of Miles and his daughter in the school as being wow.

  6. Nish

    I read this book before my book blogging days. I remember absolutely nothing about it, except that I enjoyed it very much…but you’re right I remember it being slow in the beginning.

  7. miathereader

    When I graduated from college, I asked my favorite literature professor what I should read now that I didn’t have any assigned reading. She told me to read Empire Falls. For whatever reason, I never did until I saw it on the free table at my library, 7 years later. It was a great book. The end was a little abrupt to me, but it wasn’t a total shock. I know a book is awesome when I feel like that fictional place and those characters must still exist somewhere outside of the book.

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