PPRL: Empire Falls, by Richard Russo (winner, 2002)

Synopsis

Small town Empire Falls, Maine and its inhabitants struggle to survive a depressed economy and the political, social, and romantic machinations of one another. Protagonist Miles Roby, who runs the local diner, fights various external battles - with his eccentric, troublesome father, with his self-absorbed, immature ex-wife, with the vengeance-obsessed and shrewd town matriarch, with the antagonistic, jealous town cop - while coming to terms with his life choices, his familial history, and his place in Empire Falls.

My Thoughts

While I enjoyed it, and found the characters compelling and beautifully developed (teenage daughter Tick was my favorite), something about the novel felt inorganic - almost self-conscious, as if it was written with an eye to dramatic adaptation. I didn't always believe action and dialogue that I was asked to believe. Still, I found the story mostly absorbing, even if the tragic ending totally blindsided me.

Selected Excerpts

Though Miles didn't think of himself as a man up to no good, he did prefer the notion of an all-loving God to that of an all-knowing one. It pleased him to imagine God as someone like his mother, someone beleaguered by too many responsibilities, too dog-tired to monitor an energetic boy every minute of the day, but who, out of love and fear for his safety, checked in on him whenever she could.

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One of the odd things about middle age, he concluded, was the strange decisions a man discovers he's made by not really making them, like allowing friends to drift away through simple neglect.

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After all, what was the whole wide world but a place for people to yearn for their hearts' impossible desires, for those desires to become entrenched in defiance of logic, plausibility, and even the passage of time, as eternal as polished marble? 

Werds I Lerned (Or Had Fergotten)

aegis - the protection, backing, or support of a particular person or organization
venal - showing or motivated by susceptibility to bribery
codger - an elderly man, esp. one who is old-fashioned or eccentric 
strafe - attack repeatedly with bombs or machine-gun fire from low-flying aircraft
offing - the more distant part of the sea in view
scofflaw - a person who flouts the law, esp. by failing to comply with a law that is difficult to enforce effectively 
"Coals to Newcastle" - a foolhardy or pointless action

Next Up

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, by Junot Diaz