* This is the last selection of this winter's book club. Next Tuesday, I will post the books for this Spring*
I'm a rather earnest and straightforward reader. I mean, I don't do very well with trickery, mirror games and whatnot. I'm not the ideal reader for a John Barth or a Samuel Beckett. They're cool, but they play a different game than I like to. Whenever I read a literary novel, I prefer emotional stimulation, rather intellectual swordplay. Richard Russo is kind of a best-of-both-worlds scenario. He writes a straightforward prose, he tells stories. But it's not as innocent as, let's say John Irving novels are. Russo writes with a purpose. EMPIRE FALLS is as realistic as it gets, but it's also a very patient novel, full of symbolism, that displays how everything and everybody are interconnected.
I might've passed by on Richard Russo if it wasn't for one thing. It beat Jonathan Franzen's THE CORRECTIONS by a nose for 2002's Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The latter made a lot of noise in 2001, being selected for the Oprah Winfrey book club and turning it down. It brought the novel AND Franzen a lot of attention. Russo's novel is quieter, less tortured, ambitious but not as ambitious as Franzen's breakthrough and is more controlled in general. Giving the Pulitzer to one over the other is a question of opinion more than anything else, because both are great. Sure thing, the streets of EMPIRE FALLS are a special place. They're full of people who just want to get by in difficult economic times. They are struggling with their lives, but also struggling with change and the way things are going in America.
THREE REASONS TO READ: EMPIRE FALLS
1) Janine Roby. Miles' estranged wife is awesomely tortured. She's that proverbial person who wants to be strong, who tells everybody she understood how things work, how to live her life. But you know how this is with people who talk too much about themselves. Reality is often a lot more complex than what they pretend. Janine was the showstopper for me.
2) The Whiting family meta-storyline. The more challenging part of Russo's novel. It's not that much of a headache, just enough to keep things fun. The Withing family has fallen, but the heiress is still the most important person in Empire Falls. Everything is tied to the Whitings.
3) The symptoms of change. Empire Falls is a city that struggles with the accelerated way America is changing. There are symptoms of that buried in every soul of Empire Falls. Part of the fun is to debunk those. To find them in everybody.
THREE TOPICS ABOUT: EMPIRE FALLS
1) Why can't Janine find happiness now that she left Miles? What was the source of her issues if it wasn't him?
2) The Miles that everybody knows and the Miles that Francine Whiting keeps around are two fairly different people. Who do you think is the real Miles and why?
3) How would you describe the relationship of Miles Roby with Empire Falls? Why does he adopt such a flat stance about everything and everybody, except his daughter Tick?