Small town America encapsulated, Russo’s favourite theme.
Richard Russo is to me the true narrator of middle America. One may argue that his America is only a partial one, that it leaves out large parts of the population (blacks, Hispanics, Asians) and that it focuses too much on blue collar, gently decaying communities. I grant all that, but that does not prevent him from creating complex characters and stories that play like a symphony, with multiple subplots adding up to the total. “Empire Falls ” is that kind of bittersweet story , seemingly soft and kind, at times hard, often sad and full of the shortcomings and regrets that most human beings endure.
The main character, Miles Roby, runs a restaurant in Empire Falls (Maine), where nothing much happens. He is getting divorced, the restaurant is a barely profitable business and above everything, he cares about his daughter
In “Empire Falls” Russo touches on several difficult issues (homosexuality, child and women abuse, guns control) with grace, clearly taking a stance but without turning his book into a manifesto.
Having read “Nobody’s fool” about a year ago, I could not but compare the two. Both use the same type of main male character (Miles Roby in Empire Falls, Sully in Nobody’s Fool) as the backbone of the plot, or rather the hub where all subplots seem to start and end. But whereas Sully is, in my opinion, richer in his features as a human being (noble but violent, well meaning but stubborn beyond common sense), Miles is irritatingly good natured. That has influenced my opinion of this novel.
Focusing on “Empire Falls” itself, I found the plot first slow coming, then quick to reach a climax that felt a bit too rushed, and finally somewhat disappointing as Miles Roby seems to carry on again without making a truly brave decision.
I will not spoil the plot of course, but I found the epilogue absolutely brilliant. It has the poignancy that is lacking in the rest of the book. It is a pity that one has to wait until the end of the story to enjoy that piece of elegant and passionate writing.