Sunday, April 1, 2007

Empire Falls

It's really impossible for me to name just one favorite book or one favorite writer--I like too many different things for too many very different reasons. Richard Russo or a book by him is always in the mix, though. Russo's books are usually about life in a blue-collar small town populated by an eccentric cast of imperfect but likable characters. All that sounds kind of depressing, I realize, but Russo manages to be funny too. The town of Empire Falls is slowly fading away; the mills have closed and the stores on Main Street are boarded up. The town matriarch, Francine Whiting, owns much of what's left, including the Empire Grill. Miles Roby had bigger dreams than this town, but left college to care for his dying mother and has run the Empire Grill ever since. His wife, Janine, recently divorced him to marry the slimy Walt and his teenage daughter, Tick, is having problems of her own at school. There are a lot of other colorful people running around,Empire Falls, including Miles' father, the unreliable Max, and his former neighbor and nemesis Jimmy Minty. I had the pleasure of hearing Mr. Russo read from this book shortly after it won the Pulitzer, and if he ever comes to a bookstore anywhere near you, don't pass up the chance. He is just as warm and funny as his characters.

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