Reviewed – “Empire Falls” by Richard Russo

Empire Falls is not the type of book I ever expected to like, but these ‘slice of life’ sorts of books, focusing on men approaching middle age and the varied personalities in the small, dying towns where they live are fast becoming something I need to read more of (so if you’ve got suggestions beyond Empire Falls and Virgil Wander, the only two I’ve read, please do leave a comment and let me know what to get next!). 

This book was an impulse buy at Goodwill because a) it was only $0.59, b) it has the Pulitzer Prize medallion on the cover and I need to read more award winning books, and c) it seemed like Leif Enger’s Virgil Wander which I read a couple months ago and loved.

So was it worth it?

Yes. On all three counts. There are very few books not worth $0.59, first of all. As I said, I haven’t read a lot of award winning books but I think I can see why Richard Russo earned it for this novel. And it was like Enger’s much more recent book.

I loved it, despite there being entire chapters printed in small, fancy italics – I have trouble focusing on italics in books and, when confronted with long passages in italics, I tend to skim and end up disinterested. But Empire Fallsovercame the unfortunate decision to have entire chapters in italics. If I found myself skimming, I forced myself to go back and read it over, slowly, because I did not want to miss any details in this complex, fascinating novel.

It’s not an easy book to read – there is a school shooting, divorce, some underlying racism, adultery, spousal abuse, underage drinking, drugs, alcoholism, emotional manipulation – but those things that make it hard are the things that make life hard. And sometimes it’s almost a relief to read about somebody else enduring all the things that make life not so easy to endure.

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