Friday, Dec. 21, 2001

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Forty-year-old Miles Roby seems to be one of life's born losers. Or are his problems self-made? He manages a decrepit restaurant in the dying Maine burg of Empire Falls — the place he was born and feels helpless to leave — in the wan hope of inheriting it from the widow who owns it. The limited social circles available condemn him to repeated and unpleasant meetings with his ex-wife's obnoxious boyfriend. He has lost parental control of his bright but troubled teenage daughter. Why doesn't he pack up and start somewhere new? In answering that question, Richard Russo's richly textured novel not only offers an enthralling and sometimes scary portrait of small-town life but also reveals a dignity, unexpected yet totally convincing, in its beleaguered hero.