Daniel's Reviews > Empire Falls

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
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's review
Oct 19, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009
Recommended to Daniel by: Jennifer netherby
Read in November, 2009

This is one of those rare occasions when I wish GoodReads were to offer half-star ratings, because then I could give "Empire Falls" four and a half stars. It was almost a five-star novel in my estimation, but I had a few quibbles with it. It's nevertheless an excellent book, and one I don't feel much need to review at length; my friend Jennifer, who both recommended the book to me and lent me her copy, has already written a brilliant assessment. Her review is at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

So what are my quibbles? They're not many, really, but I felt that, at times, Russo laid too much out for his readers. There is, for example, a scene in which David Roby details for his brother Miles the personality traits each sibling got from their father and which he received from their mother. It felt like something Russo should have allowed us, his readers, to figure out for ourselves. I wanted Russo to have more trust in his audience. Also, the book seemed to wrap up a bit too neatly; the lives Russo depicted were certainly messy, and they seemed to demand a less tidy conclusion.

Still, the book, overall, is a staggering achievement. Russo has an amazing eye for the human condition -- how the way our parents raise us often determines our directions us for the rest of our lives, even if we think we're smart enough to see those risks and do our damnedest to choose our own paths anyhow. (The novel feels, at times, like a book-length meditation on the poem "This Be The Verse," by Philip Larkin: "They fuck you up, your mum and dad. / The may not mean to, but they do. They fill you with the faults they had / And add some extra, just for you.")

On a personal note, it was interesting to read Richard Russo's book at the same time I read George Eliot's "Middlemarch." Both, by depicting the lives of tightly knit communities -- the births, deaths love affairs, marriages, educations, careers and dreams both failed and accomplished of the members of those communities -- get at the bigger truths of all our lives. Both Eliot and Russo have a gift for the sardonic, and make us develop an affection for characters who, objectively speaking, we should not like. There's no way we should want to spend time with Russo's Max Roby, yet Russo is such a talented writer that we not only suffer him but develop as much begrudging affection for him as his sons Miles and David have.

I've already written more about "Empire Falls" than I intended to. Jennifer nailed it, and you should read her review instead. Then read the book.
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Reading Progress

10/19/2009 page 11
10/31/2009 page 95
19.67% 2 comments
11/06/2016 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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Jennifer Review! Review!

Daniel Full review up now, Jennifer. I just needed a few minutes to write it!

Jennifer I'm glad you enjoyed it! Thanks for the kind comments on my review - you are too kind!

Daniel No, Jennifer, you are too kind. Thank you for recommending and lending me the book!

Jennifer anytime!

message 6: by Jen (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jen I remember finding it a bit more melodramatic than most Russo, but then again I do like me some Russo. Over time Nobody's Fool has eclipsed my feelings for Straight Man. There's just something about a smart-assed fuck up of a character that calls to me.

message 7: by Els (new) - rated it 3 stars

Els I loved it too, in a 4 1/2 out of 5 stars kind of way.
You touched on the only real flaw I found with this book; the way he had of telling the reader too much. And how he'd kind of change something mid-stream, with a strategically-placed "Actually..."
I found myself remembering Mr. Lyon my high school English teacher saying "Show me, don't tell me."

Russo's short story, Horsemen, was my introduction to his work.
I'm not sure anything most people could ever write would eclipse the greatness of that story.

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