By Richard Russo
Ms. Hen has not posted a blog in a while. She’s been busy doing other things that have not been pleasant. She read a very long and winding novel, EMPIRE FALLS, which she enjoyed. She found this book was easier to read in long segments because the characters are rich and dense. It’s not to say they’re badly written characters. They’re very complex.
This novel won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002. Ms. Hen has read another novel by Richard Russo, THE RISK POOL, which she also liked, but when she told people she read that, everyone she talked to raved about EMPIRE FALLS. It has been a while since she read THE RISK POOL, but she finally got around to reading the Pulitzer Prize winning novel.
EMPIRE FALLS is about a small town in Maine by the same name. The protagonist, Miles Roby, is the manager of the Empire Grill, the diner in town, owned by Francine Whiting, the town matriarch, who happens to own everything in the town. Miles went away to college and never meant to spend twenty years at the Empire Grill, but he came back because his mother had cancer, and then he got married, had a child and he stayed to manage the restaurant. Few job options exist in Empire Falls.
At the beginning of the novel, Miles is in the middle of a divorce with Janine, who had an affair with The Silver Fox, Walt Comeau, the owner of the town health club. Janine has lost a lot of weight and is proud of that. Tick, Miles’ and Janine’s daughter, lives with Janine, but can’t stand Walt.
The town is full of local characters, most of whom have spent their entire lives there. A lot of them don’t like each other, or they might, but they are all so bored with their lives that they only tolerate their neighbors. Miles seems like the only sympathetic character in the novel. Miles’ father, Max, is despicable, Janine’s mother is a wisecracking tavern owner who is tired, Walt is obnoxious, Janine is narcissistic, Tick is an awkward child, and everyone else in high school is immature.
EMPIRE FALLS is an accurate portrayal of small-town life. Ms. Hen has never lived in a small town, but she has read enough books and has visited small towns often enough to know they can be insular and some of the people who reside there are provincial. A lot of people who live in small towns never leave, and everyone knows everything about the whole town.
Miles Roby is a man who wants to improve the life that he has. Mrs. Whiting told him years ago that he would inherit the Empire Grill when she dies, and he has been waiting for her to die for many years. He wants change, but that is difficult for him to achieve.
Ms. Hen wanted to tell most of the characters in this novel to get a life and don’t be a jerk because life is short and you should appreciate what you have while you have it. Most of the characters in EMPIRE FALLS are petty and selfish and need to get a grip on things. Ms. Hen realized that when a person or a hen reads a novel or watches a film or a play, that person or hen brings her own feelings to the piece. Ms. Hen brought her own emotions to her reading of this novel. But the characters in the novel are exactly the way people are in real life. People hardly appreciate what they have until they’re faced with its loss.
Ms. Hen does not recommend reading this novel when you are in a crisis or if you’re depressed, because it will make you angry and want to punch all the characters. But if you want to read a novel in which characters are realistic and difficult, and you’re in a good place in your life, EMPIRE FALLS is fantastic.