Knopf, May 2001, 25.95,479 pp.
When the textile and logging industries deserted the town, Empire Falls, Maine began to more than decline. The small town appeared ready to die and remains in critical condition. Still, Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill, finds sustenance for the soul by observing the eccentricities of his repeat customers even as his wife divorces him to take up with one of his diners.
Everyone in town dances to the tune of the matriarch Francine Whiting whose deceased husband owned the manufacturing plants that once thrived in Empire Falls. Rich in spite of the closure of her prime income makers, Francine owns the grill that she promises will go to “tap dancing” Miles. In fact that observation of being part of a dance ensemble performing to the music of Francine provides Miles with the amused lament of what he could have been.
No author today provides deeper looks at small towns than Richard Russo does. EMPIRE FALLS is an incredible character study that insures every cast member, including those making only cameo appearances comes in three-dimensional flesh and blood and the key protagonists and several secondary players contain so much depth they feel like neighbors. The story line centers on small town life mostly from the milieu of the diner. Many of these observations come from Miles to include his self-deprecating introspection. All this makes Richard Russo's character study tale so good that readers who relish a strong insightful human drama will want this novel.
This report prepared by Harriet Klausner