Monday, May 28, 2007

Empire Falls

The Book: Empire Falls by Richard Russo. A novel.

Empire Falls, a small, struggling mill town in Maine, is the setting for this story unfolding around Miles Roby, a town native. Miles spent his entire life growing up in Empire Falls and watched its population and economy dwindle with the closing of the textile mill. Despite the opportunities presented in the world beyond Empire Falls, Miles quit college to assist his ailing mother back home, and has been spending the subsequent twenty years there running the Empire Grill for Mrs. Whitening. Mrs. Whitening, the rich town widow owns a nice slice of the town black and white, and the rest is just written to her in gray ink for power.

Mile’s own dream, his mother’s dream for him and his dream for his daughter Tick is and can further be compromised by the limits of this struggling town. Nonetheless he finds himself incapable of doing anything about it. He’s not bound to the town by any legal obligation or tangible force, but he can’t gather the courage to stand up to the authority, Mrs. Whitening, and do what he wants for himself.

The author paints the characters exceptionally vividly, and when Miles confronts Mrs. Whitening for a Liquor license for the grill to enable a profit after many years of none, she denies it to him, and we can understand why he doesn’t push his position. He’s silenced under her power. Much of his financial dependency provides her with the ability to manipulate him, so she’d rather not he become too self-sufficient. She constantly reminds him of the help she’s provided his family through the years, and with that further fixes her authority. The shrewd old woman has a way of pulling puppet strings to the effect he is frustratingly dancing to her beat, unable to gather the hutzpah to tear himself apart.

What I found most intriguing is that something deathly and disturbing had to happen to the town for Miles to find the strength to act. In all its simplistic daily events, in its organized agenda of everyday, the character cannot break out. It’s only a tragedy that can finally set him free. It’s only something very painful that can immune him to the other.

The story’s ending was merely a beginning, and a satisfying one. Contrary to what I’d anticipated, Miles finds his freedom in heading back home. His own town, now starting to revive its economic strength, past the death of Mrs. Whitening, is the very place he finds his independence. What’ like the familiar place we call home --- with some improvement?


This book won the Pulitzer Prize. Although the writing is great, the plot is a tad too slow, then fast, for my liking. The characters are three-dimensional and real, the setting is faithful to its subject. The issues of thought and conversation throughout the book often touch profound life question as faith and family. However, I have a hard time understanding how a book wins an award against so many masterpieces. What it is that make one book better than the next.

Favorite Line: “people are themselves, their efforts to be otherwise not withstanding…”


JK from KJ said...

How interesting! Just today, I too wondered what qualifies a book for the Pulitzer Prize. Here’s what I found on their official website.

“There are no set criteria for the judging of the Prizes… It is left up to the Nominating Juries and The Pulitzer Prize Board to determine exactly what makes a work ‘distinguished.’”

BTW, a very clear review. Thanks. Unfortunately, they aren’t yet awarding a Pulitzer Prize for the most ‘distinguished’ blog. I have no doubt who that would have been. :)

It's All Good Now said...

Thanks for the review. I'll read the book, and log back in to let you know what I think.

LakewoodShmuck said...

nice review. i linked to you. please link to me. thanx

chchick said...

Sound like a merger between two kosher chicken producers.