Friday, January 20, 2012

Falling Empires

Empire Falls is the fictional town in Maine which Richard Russo creates in his novel by the same name.  It is a small town with too many big fish, who keep swimming into each other.  Empire Falls focuses on two families living very different but equally unhappy lives, the Robys and the Whitings.  Miles Roby is the protagonist.  He is a man who grew up in Empire Falls, and whose mother wanted nothing more than for him to leave.  He returns home to watch his mother die, and finds himself trapped in the Falls, like its other inhabitants.   Mrs. Whiting is a woman who believes in power and control, and wields each in ways that seem both domineering and somehow benevolent.

A feature of small town life is that it is hard to get away from someone who wants to keep tabs on you. The relationship of one who wants nothing more than to be ignored by another and the one who refuses to ignore is played out again and again in the novel.  Take, for instance, the small town cop and the man he insists was his friend in high school.  Or the high school loser and the cop's son.  And even the millionaire and the woman who seduced her husband.  These are only a sampling of the complicated, one-sided relationships that Russo explores.

Empire Falls won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize.  The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen was a finalist that year.  Like The Corrections, Empire Falls  explores the dynamics of dysfunctional families.  In The Corrections, the siblings are more interesting because their choices and situations are outrageous, while still remotely believable.  In Empire Falls the relationships within the families are more predictable and possibly more realistic, and the added characters from the town give the story a wider focus.  Overall, I preferred The Corrections, but Russo's story is also very good, and probably worthy of The Prize.

In Breaking News. . . Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, the movie, opened today.  I'm not sure if I will see it tonight or tomorrow, but by the end of this weekend you'll have a full report.

Next up on CD:  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.  This is another Pulitzer Prize winner.  I'm looking forward to getting started on it!

Still Reading:  This Beautiful Life  by Helen Schulman

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