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Empire Falls
by Richard Russo

Like most of Richard Russo's earlier novels, Empire Falls is a tale of blue-collar life, which itself increasingly resembles a kind of high-wire act performed without the benefit of any middle-class safety nets. This time, though, the author has widened his scope, producing a comic and compelling ensemble piece. There is, to be sure, a protagonist: fortysomething Miles Roby, proprietor of the local greasy spoon and the recently divorced father of a teenage daughter. But Russo sets in motion a large cast of secondary characters, drawn from every social stratum of his depressed New England mill town. We meet his ex-wife Janine, his father Max (another of Russo's cantankerous layabouts), and a host of Empire Grill regulars. We're also introduced to Francine Whiting, a manipulative widow who owns half the town--and who takes a perverse pleasure in pointing out Miles's psychological defects.

The most recent discussion

What follows is an impromptu discussion from May, 2002:

Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (1 of 25), Read 43 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002 09:56 PM I began to read 'Empire Falls,' a 483 page novel, late this afternoon and am a third through it, already. I can't put it down! The characters are so real to me, that I feel as though I've grown up with them. Wow! No wonder it won the Pulitzer. From the back cover: 'Miles Roby has been slinging hamburgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter, Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it's Janine, Mile's soon-to- be ex-wife, who's taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it's the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town - and seems to believe that "everything" includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.' There is also a bit of good news included in the recently released trade paperback of 'Empire Falls'.. Russo's first collection of short stories, called "The Whore's Child and Other Stories' is to be released in July of this year. Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (2 of 25), Read 39 times Conf: Constant Reader From: R Bavetta Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002 11:26 PM I loved the relationship between Miles and Tick. Ruth
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (3 of 25), Read 42 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 07:59 AM I listened to this on tape, and it forced me to slow down my experience of the unfolding of Empire Falls. My husband listened to it, too, and loved it as much as I did. We spent an entire evening at dinner talking about it. I loved the relationship between Tick and Miles, too. Russo sure has a way with dialogue. One of the nice things about the BOT was a long interview with him taking up the entire last tape. He said dialogue comes very easy. Sometimes it runs away from him, and he has to hold it in check. You certainly get the feeling that he knew his characters intimately. Each was individual and quirky, just like in small towns. Beej, when you finish, let us know. There's a lot to talk about. This is one of those books I'll remember for a long time. Sherry
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (4 of 25), Read 39 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 03:55 PM Sherry, I haven't been able to just sit and read the way I want to, today, but I sure will tell you when I've finished. I gotta say, if any of you haven't read this yet, I urge you to get in your car, ASAP, and skadaddle to the library! This novel is outstanding, and I can't wait to get into a discussion on it! Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (5 of 25), Read 41 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Jean Keating Date: Sunday, May 19, 2002 05:16 PM I am just finishing this interesting novel. I don't want to say anything to spoil the ending for anyone so will wait until others have finished it. Found myself laughing aloud occasionally especially about the cat, Timmy. Jean K.
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (6 of 25), Read 53 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 07:49 AM I'm only just past the half way mark, but my favorite character is Max Roby. I LOVE good old Max! In fact, I break into a grin whenever he appears. There's just something about crusty old men that has this effect on me, anyway (my neighborhood is filled with these darling, gruff, old codgers, and I really do love each and every one of them.)...even if they are 'sempty' years old and have crumbs in their beards. As Max would be the first to say, "So what?" I especially like how they say what they think, no sprucing things up to impress anybody. A spade is a spade, and if you don't like it, "So what?" For example, when Max runs into the police officer, Jimmy Minty, who used to be the kid next door: "Jimmy Minty," said Max, sitting down on the bench seat and forcing the policeman to slide down next to the window. Max looked at him with what appeared to be total bewilderment. "My GOD, what a stupid kid you were growing up." "Go easy, Dad," Miles said. "He's carrying a gun these days." "I just hope he's smarter than he was back then." Max said, offering a paw to the policeman. "How the hell are you, Jimmy?" Minty looked at the proffered hand as if he doubted Max had washed it in the men's room, but he shook it anyway... Speaking to Miles now...Max said "You remember what a stupid kid he was? My GOD, it was pitiful..." Minty seemed to want his hand back now, but didn't know how to get it.. "It was enough to make you cry." Max said, finally letting go of the man's hand... "I suppose it should be a lesson to us all," Max observed. "Never give up on a child.." Delightful, Delightful! Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (7 of 25), Read 41 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 09:43 AM And it gets better, Beej. Max is one of my favorite characters too. I also like Horace (it's funny how I actually remember most of the characters names after having listened to this weeks ago -- usually the names all fall away after a day or two.) Horace is the newspaper guy who always beats Walter at gin rummy. He's got this growth on on his forehead, that everybody says he ought to have looked at. It seems to pulsate with emotion (a third eye?) Sherry
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (8 of 25), Read 48 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 11:15 AM Max, always true to character, even has something to say to Horace about that cyst on his forehead: ' "You should get that thing removed," Max suggested, glancing at the fibroid cyst on Horace's forehead. "I'm always afraid it'll explode when I'm talking to you." ' Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (9 of 25), Read 42 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 11:28 AM Another character I really like is old Father Tom..the senile priest who calls Miles 'a peckerhead degenerate' and gossips about what learns, when he manages to sneak in to hear confessions behind Father Mark's back. (Now, why isn't 'peckerhead' in the spell check?? It's a perfectly legitimate word, in my opinion!) Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (10 of 25), Read 38 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Lynn Isvik Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 12:05 PM The term "peckerhead" caught my attention too, Beej, mostly because it also featured in Straight Man. Maybe Father Tom is related to Billy Quinn (hope I got the right one from SM)! Lynn
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (11 of 25), Read 40 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 12:10 PM Yep! Russo seems to have affection for that particular word, doesn't he, Lynn! (So do I, and I think it should be added to CR's dictionary.) Beej, who has met more peckerheads than she can count.
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (12 of 25), Read 38 times Conf: Constant Reader From: R Bavetta Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 12:20 PM Russo certainly can create memorable characters, can't he? I read this last December, meant to post on it, never did. Now, I'd like to read it again, just so I can keep up with this discussion, but since he won the Pulitzer, Russo's books are all spoken for at the library. Sigh. I just can't feature buying a book I've already read. Ruth
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (13 of 25), Read 40 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Monday, May 20, 2002 12:35 PM Is the waiting list for the library copy long, Ruth? I'm only a little past the half way mark, so still have a ways to go. I can understand why you wouldn't want to buy a copy of a book you've already read, but if push comes to shove, at least it's out in trade paperback, now. Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (14 of 25), Read 27 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Jean Keating Date: Tuesday, May 21, 2002 09:51 PM Has anyone finished this yet? I am so anxious to discuss it. Have almost finished it and hate to see it end. The devastating incident with John Voss toward the end of the book is so similar to recent events and such a shock when it happens. Jean K.
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (15 of 25), Read 30 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 06:16 AM Jean, I've been done for a while, if you want to put up spoiler notices and talk about the end. Sherry
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (16 of 25), Read 32 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 07:36 AM I'm heading down the homefront and should be done by tomorrow, at the latest. I thought I'd be done before now, but life keeps getting in the way. (I HATE it when that happens!) What a book! Don't the characters seem real? We've all met these people in real life, one time or another. Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (17 of 25), Read 27 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Jean Keating Date: Wednesday, May 22, 2002 07:26 PM Spoilers Was anyone surprised by the violence in school exhibited by John Voss? My heart went out to this bullied and mistreated child, but I was sickened by his treatment of the dog. I found Father Tom to have NO charm. I hated him for the terrible penance he sadistically imposed on Grace and the dreadful consequences to her life. I enjoyed the unfolding of the story revealing Francine's true motive regarding Miles and the reasons behind them. What was your reactions to these topics? Jean K.
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (18 of 25), Read 24 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 06:37 AM I suspected something would happen concerning John Voss, but when it did, it surprised me. It wasn't out of the blue, however. Russo laid down all the groundwork. In the interview I listened to, one of the concerns he had was about that very thing. He didn't want people to say "I didn't think it was THAT kind of book" but he didn't want to project it either. He asked the interviewer in a kind of wistful voice "How did you feel about the school violence? Was it a surprise?" Then he voiced his concerns about giving too much away too early, but having the reader understand why it happened. John Voss was a lost cause. How he treated the dog was sickening, but then he was imitating the behaviour inflicted on him. He was sick. I often asked myself why Francine would still be carrying out her revenge on Miles. He had nothing to do with it. Do you think it reasonable that Francine's "power and control" would carry over that far? My husband thinks it would. I wonder about it. Sherry
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (19 of 25), Read 34 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 08:53 AM I finished 'Empire Falls' and fought tears; not because the story line was sad, not because I felt so deeply about the demise of any of the characters. I fought tears because this novel was so perfect, so exquisite, that its beauty was difficult to deal with. Perfect, is the honest adjective to use. From beginning to end, this novel is flawless. And, probably the highest compliment that I, personally, can give an author, it's about as close to early Updike as anything I've read. The ultimate quest of a reader, 'Empire Falls' transported me beyond reality, beyond my own town, family, experiences and situations. For the duration of my reading, I lived in Empire Falls. My neighbors and friends were Miles and Tick, Janine, Mrs. Whiting and Cindy. I remembered the lovely Grace, suffering, dying, barely enduring a heart so broken that it had become numb. I know I will return to Empire Falls in thought. I'll wonder how Tick is doing. I'll hope Charlene and David found happiness. I'll try to remember they do not really exist. But this will be difficult, because they do exist; they exist in people I've known in my past. They exist in the form of my neighbors, friends and family. They exist in all of us who have loved, who have lost in love, and who go on searching for meaning in life, even though, at times, it seems such a futile search. SPOILER I think Mrs. Whiting continued her vengeance on Miles for two reasons: First, Miles was the child C.B. Whiting chose over Cindy. Not only did his love for Grace surpass his love for his wife, it surpassed his desire to be with his daughter; a daughter he had maimed for life. He wanted to be with Grace and Miles. Cindy did not fit into the picture, a fact that ruined his own happiness with Grace, who could not accept a man who would abandon his child. Second, I think Mrs. Whiting felt her lasting revenge for Grace capturing the affections of Mr. Whiting, was to hurt the one person Grace loved more than anyone else in life; Miles. And, wasn't it pure revenge, and perhaps Mrs. Whiting's cruelest vengeance, when she brought Miles back to Empire Falls when Grace was dying? Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (20 of 25), Read 31 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 09:24 AM Do you think Miles' sexual problems were a result of his knowledge of Grace's affair? Could that affair, and all that happened as a result of that affair, have had such an affect on Miles that it ruined his marriage? Or, do you think, despite what Janine tells herself, it had little to do with Janine's leaving Miles? I think part of the answer lies in the epiphany Father Mark had while helping the gay artist; that it was mostly the need to feel special, to feel desired, that caused her to walk out on Miles and Tick, especially after losing all that weight. Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (21 of 25), Read 22 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Jean Keating Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 12:16 PM I agree that Francine's hatred and need for revenge against Grace continued. As mentioned this was evidenced in her phone call that resulted in Miles return to Empire Falls--the one thing that would hurt his mother the most. I also feel that none of this would have happened if that old fool, Father Tom, had not extracted such a terrible penance from Grace in order for her to achieve forgiveness. I think Miles did not posses a strong sex urge--at least where Janine was concerned. Things might have been different had he been able to get Charlene. I, too, hated to see this book end. I grieved for Otto and his heroic act of bravery, in a way, to make up for inflicting John Voss on Tick. And yes John Voss was a lost soul--a time bomb waiting to explode. I feel that the type of bullying he endured is just what tragically goes on in many schools today toward the "misfits" Jean
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (23 of 25), Read 25 times Conf: Constant Reader From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 12:26 PM Only December, and I have forgotten so much. I can see that I'm not going to be able to say anything of much import here. I do remember feeling that the ending was a little melodramatic, tho. Wasn't there some kind of flood? Ruth
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (22 of 25), Read 21 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Sherry Keller Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 12:22 PM As I said earlier, I remember all the names of all these people, just like they were long lost family of mine. And it's been a several weeks since I listened to the book. Beej, if I were you, I'd search out the Recorded Books version of this, just for the interview at the end. I think you will find it fascinating. I think one thing that made this book so good was that it contained a lot of symbolism, but it was so neatly incorporated into the story, that it entered your consciousness subliminally. The first time we're introduced to Tick, she's carry that huge backpack -- the world is weighing her down. But kids do carry packs that size around, and it's a reminder of how much work it is to be a kid these days. Didn't you just want to scream at Janine to look into Walt's finances BEFORE she married him? I don't know what might have caused Miles lack of sexual interest in Janine (besides his history). One reason might have been their incompatibility. And her sarcasm probably didn't help much. Do you think they'll get back together? (Here we go again, talking like they're real.) Sherry
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (24 of 25), Read 27 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 12:59 PM Ruth, I don't think the ending of the book was melodramatic, especially, when you consider the novel began with the flooding of the river and ended with the flooding of the river. I think the river was symbolic of life, and as such it was very fitting that, beginning and ending, what went around, came around. The Whitings tried to change the flow of the river, just as they tried to change the lives of those in Empire Falls. in the end, they failed miserably, a symbolic drowning in their own self serving plottings. Another reason Miles may not have been interested in sexual relations with Janine might be because he had been in love with Charlene the whole of his adult life. Beej
Topic: Empire Falls - Richard Russo (25 of 25), Read 31 times Conf: Constant Reader From: Beej Connor Date: Thursday, May 23, 2002 01:11 PM Dale, have you read this one? If not, my friend, I'm warning you that I'm going to nag you (check your e-mail, if you don't believe me!) to the nth degree until you do read it, only because I love to hear your reaction when you've read a book of this caliber. You'll thank me, in the end. I promise.. Beej
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, October 16, 2003 12:20 PM 1) I had a note from Sherry this morning. Not only has she not reread this book, but in her shame she has fled the scene for a couple of days. She asked that I start the discussion. 2)However---------I have not reread the book, either. I fully intended to, but forgot all about it. 3) Can someone else who has done his/her homework break the ice with the first post? Ruth, busily paving the road to hell
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Thursday, October 16, 2003 01:17 PM Well, I'll jump in, having just finished this book, which I loved! Miles Roby, the middle-aged protagonist, has been running the Empire Grill in his economically stagnant hometown for 20 years, clinging to the diner owner's promise that she will eventually hand it over to him. But Miles is the only one in town who thinks that the manipulative, cold Francine Whiting will make good on her promise. Meanwhile, Miles's soon-to-be-ex-wife, Janine, has conned Miles into giving her and her soon-to-be-new husband, the obnoxious Walt Comeau, the use of their home. Walt, proprietor of the local health club, frequents the Empire Grill, taunting Miles and daring him to arm wrestle. Miles's ne'er do well septuagenarian father is constantly hitting him up for money, his recovering drug addicted brother may be growing pot out in the woods, and his daughter Tick, the light of his life, proclaims accurately that she has no friends and then brings two very different but equally troubling young men into the Grill's orbit. Finally, Miles is haunted by the memory of his mother and a week they spent on Martha's Vineyard when Miles was small; he is on the verge of discovering some difficult truths about his mother, Mrs. Whiting, and the late C.B. Whiting, her husband. Russo takes on parent-child dynamics, economic disruption, child abuse and teen violence, destiny and attempts to avoid it, yet the novel is neither ponderous nor didactic. I found it full of humor, patience and compassion for human foibles. And (especially nice after my disappointment with "The Little Friend") he does not bring out a single gun in Act I that is not fired by the final curtain. I loved Miles but am fascinated by Francine Whiting. Is it revenge alone that made her tick? What did other people think about this book? Mary Ellen
From: R Bavetta Date: Thursday, October 16, 2003 02:54 PM Great summary, Mary Ellen. This book was my introduction to Richard Russo, and I liked it so much I segued into a RR reading streak. I fully intended to read it again, but my life being as interrupted as it has been lately, I forgot entirely. It's been just long enough since I read it that I don't think I can discuss it well. I will say, though, that RR is one of the smoothest writers it's been my pleasure to read. Ranks right up there with Updike and Cheever. Ruth, still hoping to hit the library and pick this one up again
From: Dale Short Date: Thursday, October 16, 2003 09:01 PM Enjoyed your overview, Mary Ellen. Miles's father was one of my favorite characters in this one, for sheer cussedness and entertainment value. Russo sure does have a gift for painting ne'er-do-well fathers; the one in RISK POOL, which I read recently for the first time, also comes to mind. >>Dale in Ala.
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Thursday, October 16, 2003 09:40 PM Mary Ellen, You did an excellent job summarizing the plot of the book. I loved the book as well except for the scenes at school. It bothers me when authors make teachers seem like complete idiots. I realize that there are some teachers like that art teacher, but I think that they are few and far between. Russo did make the principal seem like a fool at first, but then he seemed more sympathetic as the novel moved on. I was wondering if Russo was getting his revenge on a teacher that he had in high school when he wrote that horrible final scene in the art room. Since I survived Columbine (a high school in my district), I find scenes like that difficult to read. Francine was indeed an interesting character. She did not seem to love anyone, including her daughter. I guess she loved control and wealth. Jane
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, October 17, 2003 12:46 PM Jane, I agree that the final school scene was difficult and I have pondered whether it was necessary, or perhaps too melodramatic a conclusion to that subplot. I've concluded that with the accretion of disappointment and frustration in Empire Falls, such an act of violence was not out of place. Just hard to read. I thought that the art teacher and principal were more lazy (or perhaps worn out) than clueless. Mr. Meyer, the principal did redeem himself as the book went on. Francine had so little feeling for her daughter (what little she had seemed to be negative) that at one point, I wondered whether it would turn out that Cindy and Miles had been switched at birth. But no. SPOILER! I've concluded that, every time Francine looks at Cindy, she sees her husband's betrayal and her complicity in covering up the accident. Cindy is the embodiment of the failure of their marriage on a lot of levels. (I wonder whether Francine knows that it was CB's refusal to take Cindy along that destroyed his chance to run off with Miles's mother?) Mary Ellen
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Sunday, October 19, 2003 09:51 PM Mary Ellen, This is really a minor criticism, but it also bothered me that Miles would take Tick out of school before the end of the year, when they moved to Martha's Vineyard. I felt that she needed the stability to finish the school year at her new school. Maybe, she would have recovered enough to return to her old school in the fall. Jane
From: Sherry Keller Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 08:45 AM Thanks for getting the discussion started. We had a good discussion on this in May 2002. I think a lot of people who planned to reread the book and didn't should read this to refresh their memory. I mentioned in the old discussion that I listened to it on audiotape. It has stayed with me much longer than other books. I recommend getting the tape out of the library just for the interview at the end with Russo. Sherry
From: Beej Connor Date: Tuesday, October 21, 2003 08:54 PM Oh my god, Sherry, what a great discussion. Thanks for posting that link. I had forgotten how much I loved this book. Beej
From: Sherry Keller Date: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 08:33 AM Okay, where are all you people who voted for this book? I know it won, and I know it received more three votes. Sherry
From: Jean Keating Date: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 10:05 AM Because I do not usually take part in discussions, I don't vote on selections, but I did find Empire Fall to be one of my favorite books of last year. I liked Otto Meyer and as a former teacher and summer school principal, I know that educators sometimes make well meaning, but unfortunate decisions. Otto paid a severe price for his error--his life!! I saw that as a brave and noble act. I think Miles' decision to take Tick out of school and run to Martha's Vineyard, a place he loved, was a logical thing for him to do. After the experience Tick had been through, I doubt if she would have benefited much from finishing school at that time. I feel all the survivors will have a better future from the hints given at the end of the book. I also feel that Paul Newman will make a marvelous Max in the upcoming movie, which I can hardly wait to see. Jean K
From: Ann Davey Date: Wednesday, October 22, 2003 11:14 AM Sherry, I'm sure I voted for it; this book was my favorite read last year. However, I read it several months ago, and I've forgotten so much that it's hard to discuss it intelligently. I think Russo is wonderful at showing family dynamics. I particularly liked his depiction of the role guilt can play in a family. Some characters had a surfeit of it(Miles' mother and Miles), while others suffered from a severe deficiency (the ex-wife and the father). I thought the portrait of Miles' mother was very realistic for a certain kind of overly scrupulous old-time Catholic. Guilt served to entrap the people in this story. Miles' mother was never able to move beyond it. I would be very interested in the comments of Jane and any other teachers out there about the disturbed high school student. How realistic do you think this was? Unlike most of you, I am a bit disconcerted at the prospect of Paul Newman portraying Miles' father. I always think of Newman as a class act, and the father was anything but. He will certainly be playing against type. Ann
From: Jane Niemeier Date: Thursday, October 23, 2003 09:51 PM Even though it doesn't sound like it, I really liked this novel. I can't remember who said he/she found Father Tom to be despicable, but I agree. I didn't like Max either for the way he treated his family. No wonder his wife wanted to leave him. I did like Miles and Tick. Jean, You misunderstood my comments. I thought it was fine that Miles took Tick out of her out school and ran off the Martha's Vineyard. I didn't like the fact that he then pulled her out of her new school and took her back home. Ann, I am sure that it would be possible to find a kid like that at any school. Many children have horrible family situations, and we don't know a thing about it. One of my friends had a student in her art class who had murdered his parents when he was younger. The counselors were not allowed to tell her about his background, but she found out anyway. The boy had a horrible temper, and she was afraid any time she disciplined him. Jane
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Friday, October 24, 2003 01:32 PM I'd like to jump on the "I don't like Max" bandwagon. He was plenty entertaining in his "lovable old codger" mode, but basically he was selfish and cruel. (I didn't like Jimmy Minty, either, but the way Max baited him made me squirm.) Although Father Tim was no sweetheart, I was horrified that Max dragged this senile old man off to Key West as his meal ticket, then dumped him when he was inconvenient. One of the things I admired in Miles was the way he was at peace with who & what his father was. It seemed a healthy was to deal with a parent who had inflicted a lot of pain by neglect. Miles may have been too passive in some ways, but the flip side of that was his ability to accept so many people as they were and give them space to be themselves. It's a quality I wish I had! I had 2 questions about the end of the book. It appears that the renovation of Janine's mother's restaurant was finished and it is up and running. How did that happen after all the citations by health dept., etc? And where is the money coming to redevelop Empire Falls? If through Francine's machinations, why did she want to do it then? Mary Ellen
From: Sherry Keller Date: Saturday, October 25, 2003 07:57 AM It's been too long for me to answer your questions with authority, but this is what I think: They kept working on the restaurant until the citations didn't apply any more, or the citations "went away" when Francine did. I think outside interest spurred the financial uplifting of the town. They may have initially been introduced to the town by Francine, but they didn't require Francine to keep up their interest. Anyone else have any theories? Sherry
From: Jean Keating Date: Saturday, October 25, 2003 10:55 AM I agree with you, Sherry, that after the flood and Francine's demise, the restrictions were removed or just not enforced. Jean
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003 08:39 AM I was one of those who voted for this book and just finished it this week. This was my first Russo. What a great discovery! I had seen the film of Nobody's Fool and, between that, and your discussions about him here, I thought I would like his writing, but I didn't realize how much. This is a man who knows small towns and underachievers. My favorite thing about it was that no one was perfect. Everyone had flaws. There were no true villains. If they were doing bad things, I understood a bit about why they did them or I saw a few likeable things about them mixed in. Jimmy Minty came the closest to being totally negative for me. But, Russo gives you enough information about his past that he looks like just another link in a tragic genetic chain. I often look at children in my classroom (4 and 5 years old) who have parents with intensely negative qualities and think how sad it is that these same traits are probably going to be part of this innocent child with time and exposure. The redeeming quality of Max for me was his absolute honesty about who he was. His values were his values and he didn't pretend to be anyone's hero. I tend to have a certain grudging respect for people like that, whether I like them or not. I'm guessing that Russo had a bad time in high school himself. Everything that he focused on in that school can be true, but it's the worst of the worst, to the point of caricature at times. At least, the high school football coach didn't encourage Zack Minty's sadism and that would have been a tempting plot move for a writer. My only criticism is that I'm not sure about the ending. It just seemed all too tightly wrapped up in a very few pages. I couldn't quite buy the fact that Miles would have been able to get his daughter out of there and hidden away so successfully. I didn't think that Bea's restaurant would have been taken care of so easily. Francine Whiting's drowning seemed a bit too convenient and also somewhat unlikely. And, I'm not sure about all of this sudden, complete interest in an economically bottom-of-the-barrel town. However, I am more than willing to deal with those doubts for this writing. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003 01:20 PM Since you love books on tape, Barb, I urge you to get the Recorded Books version of this, if only to hear the interview with Russo on the last tape. He seems to be truly a very nice man and wants good things to happen to people. He was worried what his readers would think of the school tragedy. He didn't want to project it, but wanted the foundation laid. I attribute his sewing everything up at the end to his wanting as happy an ending for his characters as possible, and for his readers. As someone else pointed out here, the flood was both a literary device (a way to come full circle in the book) and totally understandable given that the Whitings had tried to control nature. I didn't mind it a bit. Sherry
From: R Bavetta Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003 01:38 PM I remember that even tho there was some foundation laid for it, that the flood seemed a bit like a deus ex machina. R
From: Barbara Moors Date: Sunday, October 26, 2003 02:54 PM Sherry, I saw your reference to that interview with Russo on a previous note and definitely have plans to try and hunt it down in our library system. Unfortunately, most of the libraries in it won't send audiobooks to a requesting library, like books. You have to go to the library to pick it up. Hopefully, one of the 4 that I go to regularly will have it. I like the idea of the river rerouting itself as a literary device, nature resisting the Whiting attempt to control it. Did I miss it or was Francine in her gazebo when it happened? That would make a bit more sense. Barb
From: Sherry Keller Date: Monday, October 27, 2003 07:50 AM Yes, I think she must have been in her gazebo. That's what I always thought, anyway. Sherry
From: Mary Ellen Burns Date: Monday, October 27, 2003 05:23 PM Yes, she was in the gazebo -- just perfect. And, although I am a cat lover, the image of that hideous cat riding the body of Francine toward the dam seemed equally perfect to me. The cat was just an extension of Francine's malevolence, as far as I could tell. (Although the cat was nice to Cindy -- more than one could say of Francine.) I'd say Francine was the closest thing to villain this book had. I found it easier to swallow her demise (despite the weird echoes of "The Mill on the Floss" -- totally different, of course) than the sudden success of the restaurant (preceding her demise) and economic revival of the town. But as Barbara said, I can overlook these flaws for the beauty of the rest of it. Mary Ellen
From: Barbara Moors Date: Monday, October 27, 2003 08:01 PM One important point in the book that kept coming back to me was the observation at some point that Miles felt that his mother's happiness at Martha's Vineyard with Charlie/C.B. was somehow connected to her eventual cancer. He thought that repressing all of those feelings might have led to it. But, I also thought it might be connected to some ideas about guilt and retribution. I wondered if those feelings were tied up in his sexual difficulties with Francine. Barb



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