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"Empire Falls"

“Empire Falls”

Richard Russo

Vintage Books



“Empire Falls” is the name of a formerly thriving mill town in Maine dominated by the Whiting family, who own the textile mill, shirt factory and much of the town’s real estate, including the Empire Grill. The Whiting family, like the deserted buildings of the textile industry, was succumbing to its own internal decay, the inability of the Whiting men to marry happily.




The story begins with a flashback to the young C.B. Whiting, who has taken up the reins of the company in spite of his longing for a poet’s life. The plot begins again with the primary protagonist, Miles Roby, whose family is indentured to the current formidable Mrs. Whiting at the Empire Grill. From a slow beginning, the story revs up as the interconnections of lives are revealed through an intermittent series of explanatory flashback chapters of what really happened.

The novel is long, 483 pages, and these revelations seem to be painstakingly slow, but the philosophical hinge of the plot is that “sudden changes happen gradually.” The actual truth of these well-drawn lives becomes more and more concrete in the last chapters when, like the final chords of a Beethoven symphony, the endings keep happening one after another until the final one drops resoundingly.

“Empire Falls” won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

– Donna Betz

Grass Valley


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