review originally published at http://www.epinions.com/review/Empire...
I am having a hard time fleshing out a plot line since this definitely isn’t an action filled novel. You won’t find James Patterson’s Alex Cross chasing murderers. And just because it takes place in a fictional Maine town, it isn’t Stephen King’s Castle Rock with ageless monsters living in the sewers. Instead, I found real people living real lives with real problems. Because I got to spend so much time with the characters instead of the plot I found myself relating to each one of them more than I do in other books I read. Their plights are somewhat reminiscent of my own. Their struggles are… well, normal.
This novel takes place in the fictional Maine town of Empire Falls. It was once sustained by a textile mill and a shirt factory, both owned and operated by the Whiting family. The prologue introduces us to C.B. Whiting, who, like all the other Whiting men, married a woman they feared and ended up hating. Mrs. Whiting, who sells the factory and mill, but remains the wealthiest woman in Central Maine, is still around, running things in her town long after her husband commits suicide.
In the main story, set in 2000, we meet our main character, Miles Roby. Miles is the guy we all know and love. The one who is too nice to ever say no, the one everyone walks all over. He’s in his early forties. The only time he’s ever made it out of Empire Falls is during the three and a half years he attended a small Catholic college in Massachusetts, coming back early to nurse his dying mother. While home, he struck a deal with Mrs. Whiting. In return for managing the town’s only restaurant, she would will it to him upon her death.
Miles is nearing the end of his twenty year marriage to Janine Roby, who has recently lost 50 pounds, and thanks to her extra-marital affair, has discovered orgasms. Janine, in a mid-life crisis, has traded in Miles, a nice, boring and reliable man for a sixty year old Walt Comeau, who is the complete opposite of Miles. At first these differences excite her, and eventually annoy her. He is loud, obnoxious, paints “The Silver Fox” on his van, and is thoroughly hated by both Janine’s mother, Bea and her and Miles’s daughter, Tick (Christina).
Tick is a sophomore in high school. On top of all the problems and troubles that go with being that age, she is also having to deal with her parent’s divorce and breaking up with the most popular boy in school, and therefore casting herself into social oblivion. Being at odds with her mother and her soon to be stepfather, Tick spends most of her time at the Empire Grill with her father and her father’s brother, David Roby. Also working at the Grill is Charlene, with whom Miles has been in love since he was sixteen years old. Charlene is renowned for having the “choicest Melons” in all of Empire Falls (quite the accomplishment, I’m sure!). Finishing out that love triangle, is Mrs. Whiting’s crippled daughter, Cindy Whiting, who has been in love with Miles since she was sixteen.
Using these and many other characters, that by the end of the novel, I felt that I knew as well as I know my own neighbors, Richard Russo weaves an intricate web of dry humor, ups and downs, pitfalls and triumphs.
As boring and/or anti-climactic as the above attempt at a plot may sound, I truly enjoyed Empire Falls and am looking forward to reading Nobody’s Fool. There were many times I found myself laughing out loud or nodding in commiseration with the characters. I recommend this novel for the reader out there looking for a relaxing, slow-paced but enjoyable read. It is a novel with real life characters... some that you love and some that you love to hate.