One of the greatest storytellers ever, Richard Russo does not receive the recognition he deserves. Empire Falls is the perfect novel depicting Middle America and I can’t believe that I hadn’t read it until just now.
The story takes place in the fictional town of Empire Falls, a small blue collar town located somewhere in Maine, and centres around Miles Roby, the middle-aged owner of the Empire Grill, a diner in town. Throughout the novel we are introduced to more townsfolk including Miles’ ex-wife, his daughter, his brother, and his father, Jimmy Minty, a policeman and former antagonistic classmate of Miles’, and Francine Whiting, an aging wealthy woman with a financial monopoly over the town. Through carefully crafted character profiles and an intricately woven story, Russo reveals the secrets behind the town and the answers to some questions that Miles has had his entire life.
While the story is full of small-town charm, it is so much more than just that. It depicts living in a small town through a period of economic decline and almost decay. While the characters and engrossing, they are also not the eccentric charming bunch that normally comes with narratives of small towns. There is something depressing or, “off” about them, which makes the book an even more engaging read. That and Miles’ flashbacks to Martha’s Vineyard and the identity of the mysterious Charlie Mayne. The characters are so very real and the book is an emotional roller coaster. It truly is a great American novel.