Book Review #13 (that’s right two weeks in a row!)

Empire Falls

By Richard Russo

First I’ll confess that I’m a bit in love with this book, I’m not head over heels, but I’m certainly nursing a crush.  Richard Russo has crafted his characters to perfection, each one with a unique voice, and compelling desires, each one relatable and moving. A good character can only flourish in a well-told story, and Russo has gone and written a mighty fine story. And finally Russo’s voice is relatable, honest, and true.  So it’s safe to say I’ve got a new contender for a top 20 book.

I picked up Russo, almost as a fluke.  His name was just stuck in my head while I was browsing though the shelves of a used book shop.  With money in my pocket and I slim reading list….well, here we are.

I feel luck to have gotten such a treasure accidentally. It’s so rare to accidentally come upon a writer who’s words ring so true with almost every paragraph.  Almost.  The book….well…it goes on a little to long.  It strays from the main story a little too often for my taste.  I’m willing to follow a writer just about anywhere, especially a writer who’s won my trust.  But after so many set backs, side trails, asides….I just wanted to get through to the end

Russo has described the first half of the book with perfect clarity a pastoral blue-collar, rural America that is incredibly real.  It’s a world that anyone who’s grown up in a small town will recognize. The places are familiar, the characters are people I recognized from Swannanoa…although Russo’s characters are distantly Catholic, and the people I know are strictly of the Baptist faith.  Other than a religious preference….they’ve got the same kind of issues going on.

Then about a third of the way through, the novel starts to take a darker turn.  At first it’s a bit of a thrill to read as Russo slowly reveals the darker secrets that these characters keep But this is where the novel goes on to long, the middle gets bogged down.  Russo wants us  to see the dark belly of the story, but he’s holding back for to long.  And after a dragging for 100+ pages, I’m ready to finish.  Then once Russo gets along with the business of finishing he’s story….it’s awesome.  The plot picks up speed, the characters finally act on their impulses.  And I’m back on the page right there with the story, no longer worried about when the story is going to end.

It’s good, and overall the book is an elegant example of good fiction.  It’s worth getting to…but the middle just needed a little tightening.


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