Empire Falls is about Miles Roby, who dreams about leaving his dull, boring
life behind as owner/operator of a small greasy spoon in his hometown in central Maine,
and forging a new life for himself and daughter.
The reader is introduced
to other characters in Miles' circle: his brother David, ex-wife Janine, teenage
daughter Tick, grouchy father Max, parish priests, and the aged town matriarch, Francine
Whiting, who seems content in controlling Miles by way of her money.
Since I currently live in a small town (pop. 800), and as I perused
Borders' shelves, I chose this book based on setting, supposedly great writing (this
book won the Pulitzer Prize), and oops...its cover (hey, it looked like a foreshadowing
The prologue is a bit lengthy, fourteen pages, but I
stuck with it, digging in and hoping for the best. Well, let's just say it took me a
while to reach the book's final ending, page 483, and
let's just say it wasn't
because I'm a slow reader, and let's just say this book left me mumbling, "God help us
literate-types if this is Pulitzer-worthy."
Don't get me wrong - I
really wanted to give writer Richard Russo my utmost recommendation. I think the problem
lies in what Russo freely admits: "I did three screenplays when I was writing Empire
Falls, which I think is really some of my best work. I would interrupt the book -
usually at a time that was good - I was at a place where I could break and then go off
for six weeks and write a screenplay - but I would go off and do that and when I came
back to the novel, it was like I had gone someplace with a hammer and nails and built
something over there and then got back and discovered my entire tool box."
Pulitzer Prize (2002)? I don't get it. Russo's writing is fine enough,
but I kept waiting for something to really happen (which finally did but felt
tremendously forced). I think my main objection is that I expected sharper writing, and I
wanted to care about Empire's characters. I just didn't.
this was some of his "best" work. That may be, but not good enough literature for the
Pulitzer. Empire Falls...down.