Paula's Reviews > Empire Falls

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
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's review
Dec 28, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: book-club
Read in February, 2009 , read count: 1

What I found to be really remarkable about this book is its ending, not because it's so action-packed (especially in comparison to the rest of the book) but because the reader's sense of foreboding builds so subtly throughout the book until one can figure out which character it will be to cause the inevitable catastrophe.

Actually, this entire book could be a study in subtlety, because the nuances in each character are so lightly illustrated as to catch the unsuspecting reader off-guard. This is mainly due to the slowness of the dawnings of each revelation to the novel's main character, Miles Roby; in fact, even readers who typically skim (and this is a pretty big novel, so skimming for some is inevitable) can pick up subtle hints that show, for instance, who Charlie Mayne really is and who is Charlene's lover. Luckily, Miles eventually figures this out (at the very end of the book, of course)and more, so one can't be completely frustrated by his seemingly selective understanding of the things going on around him.

Also, very few loose ends are left at novel's end, which is what I prefer when I read a stand-alone book. I'm curious to find out if Miles really did ever inherit the Empire Grill, but in the end it doesn't really matter. I also wish I knew if Tick ever had contact again with her summer love interest since her scheduled rendezvous obviously couldn't be kept. We do find out who was responsible for Cindy Whiting's accident as well as exactly what was wrong with John Voss and why he acted so strangely all the time. (His story is the most tragic, on several levels, and incredibly disturbing, so we had to know that his disappearance wouldn't last, leaving the reader unresolved over his fate; I knew there had to be a reason why I kept thinking of Pearl Jam's song "Jeremy" every time he was mentioned.)

The book ends rather abruptly, though, and perhaps too happily (if that's the right word to use to describe the ending). I mean, for the sake of the book innocents had to be taken to show the randomness of some violence (amid the deliberate planning that was used), but it's almost too tidy that Tick gets out alive. The Catholic dependency also is dropped maybe too quickly, considering how tightly Miles holds on to that during the first three parts of the novel, but I suppose that's not necessarily all that important a thread to hold on to. Also, the shifting perspective throughout the novel is absolutely essential so that the reader can pick up (more quickly than Miles can, at least) what's going on with other characters' motivations (although probably the best character-building moment comes from Cindy Whiting in her last face-to-face interaction with Miles, which shows just how tightly readers hold on to Miles's perspective, which isn't necessarily always the right one), but near the end we're so far removed from Miles that getting back inside his head seems forced, as a way to simply bring the novel to its conclusion.

Still, this is an amazing book overall simply because of the way it so accurately portrays the positives and negatives of small-town life. It doesn't have to be talking about a Maine city specifically to ring true to those who've experienced such an environment where everyone knows everyone else as a rule because that's just how it is. It picks up intensity as the end looms near (and one can't help but wonder exactly where the book is going or how it's ever going to make it there) and becomes less and less easy to put down.
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Reading Progress

01/19/2009 page 101
03/05/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Ed (new) - added it

Ed Nice review. Added the book to my TBR list.

Paula Thanks! I really loved it; it grew on me slowly because of the pacing, but it was the build-up of tension that hooked me. I hope you enjoy it, too!

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