Empire Falls by Richard Russo


Dexter County, Maine, and specifically the town of Empire Falls, has seen better days, and for decades, in fact, only a succession from bad to worse. One by one, its logging and textile enterprises have gone belly-up, and the once vast holdings of the Whiting clan (presided over by the last scion’s widow) now mostly amount to decrepit real estate. The working classes, meanwhile, continue to eke out whatever meager promise isn’t already boarded up. Miles Roby gazes over this ruined kingdom from the Empire Grill, an opportunity of his youth that has become the albatross of his daily and future life.

This is one time where I found the movie more engaging than the book.

Well. How surprising. I haven’t been struck by lightning. Don’t get me wrong. I liked Empire Falls, but I really didn’t love it like *some* people I know. I think it’s me. As I’ve grown older, I have really come to dislike books and movies that are all about people suffering. I want my books to be fun and mysterious, not gutwrenching and disturbing, although I can occasionally enjoy a good wrencher, like In Cold Blood, which I recently re-read. But back to Empire Falls. I found the characters rather boring and unlikable in print. Miles, even though he’s a good guy at heart, is a sap. I really wanted to see him stand up for himself long before the scene at the mill with Francine. And his father…what a jerk! I have to admit, though, that the writing really was very good. Russo has a way with words that we don’t see very often anymore, but I just wish he’d write more interesting characters. If this book hadn’t been a selection for our book group, I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first couple chapters.

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