Empire Fallsby Richard Russo might be one of my favourite, if not absolute favourite, summer reads. Russo is a great story teller, and the setting of a sleepy New England town combined with flashbacks to Miles Roby’s summers with his mother in Martha’s Vineyard make this novel well suited to beach reading.
In the flashback scenes Mile’s remembers eating steamed clams at a diner and how they were unlike anything he had ever had before. As summer is winding down I decided to try my hand at making New England style fried, rather than steamed, clams. I followed a recipe from this site, but used evaporated milk rather than buttermilk as I find it coats things better.
For the Fry Mix
1 cup corn flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the clams
1 1/2 pounds of shucked whole-belly steamer clams
About 6 cups peanut, canola, or other vegetable oil, for deep-frying
1 cup evaporated milk
To make the new england style fry mix, combine the flours, salt, and both peppers in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
Fry the clams
Heat 3 inches of oil to 375°F in a frying pan oven over medium heat.
While the oil is heating, pour the evaporated milk into a large bowl, and put the fry mix in another.
Drop the clams into the evaporated milk and stir gently.
Use a slotted spoon to lift the clams out of the evaporated milk and into the fry mix. Toss gently to coat.
Fry the clams in batches, about 1-2 minutes a side or until golden brown.
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.