Empire Falls tells the story of Miles Roby, the mild mannered, sad sack of a man who manages the Empire Grill in Empire Falls, Maine. Miles has spent his life staying out of trouble and doing what he's told without argument, even forgoing his college education to run the grill at the request of its owner (and the richest woman in town), Francine Whiting. Miles feels so indebted to Mrs. Whiting because she saw to it that Miles' mother, Grace, was well cared for when she was dying of cancer. Miles wants nothing more than to leave Empire Falls and go somewhere to create a better life for his daughter but he's gotten complacent and it's easier just to stay put. For now.
Although Miles' plight is what leads the book, there is a whole cast of interesting characters living in Empire Falls and dealing with their own dramas. Here's a snippet of some of them:
*Tick Roby-Miles' sweet, teenage daughter. I loved her. If I had known a Tick Roby in high school, I would have been friends with her.
*Janine-Miles' soon to be ex-wife. She used to be fat but now she's thin and engaged to The Silver Fox.
*The Silver Fox-Older gentleman, gym owner. Engaged to Miles' ex. Always trying to get Miles to arm wrestle. Is keeping a secret from Janine. (Yes, he does actually refer to himself as The Silver Fox. Ick.)
*Cindy Whiting-Francine Whiting's handicapped daughter. Was born on the same day as Miles and has had a life long crush on him.
*Max Roby-Miles' dad. Crotchety old guy. Always asking Miles for money. Almost always has food in his beard.
*David Roby-Miles younger brother.
*Zach Minty-Tick's ex boyfriend. Asshole jock.
*John Voss-Teenage outcast with a volatile personality. Acquaintance of Tick's.
Plus there are a dozen or so more characters I've failed to mention because I would like to finish this book review sometime before Christmas. Normally when I read a book with this many characters, I start to get them all confused. Who said and did what begins to run together in my mind and the struggle to keep it all figured out causes me to lose interest. That wasn't the case with Empire Falls. Each character was developed perfectly to the point where I felt as if I knew them all personally.
It took me a month and a half to read this book. Not because it's a bad book, but because it's what I consider a 'real' book written by a 'real' writer. It's a book smart folk read. It's won awards. It's wordy, heavy on the narrative, and without a lot of dialogue. It's filled with flashbacks and details. It's epic, like a Meatloaf song. So yeah, at first glance it really isn't a book I would have picked for myself. I like my reads to be a bit more.....succinct. But Jay had read it and loved it and since I'm always nagging him to read books that I love, I figured I should occasionally do the same for him. In the end, I liked this book more than I thought I would.
(Note: Empire Falls was made into an HBO mini-series which Jay and I have begun to watch. When compared with some of the character images I had in my mind, the casting is a bit off, but the acting is superb and I highly recommend it if you want to know more but don't feel like reading a 500 page book.)