Empire Falls received extensive critical acclaim when it was published in 2001, winning the Pulitzer Prize in fiction the following year. Richard Russo’s realist portrayals of the hardships and economic suffering faced by residents of northeastern working-class towns drew praise from reviewers and inspired a film adaptation by Home Box Office in May of 2005. As a result of the difficulty of translating to traditional cinema the intertwining plot threads that compose Empire Falls, Russo’s screenplay made some artistic compromises that lessened the dramatic impact of the original text. Nevertheless, the film manages to express the inexorable power of fate, which shifts and twists despite humanity’s feeble attempts to control it.
Unlike other works by Russo, Empire Falls is composed of many subplots that run alongside the main plot of Miles Roby’s loss of the Empire Grill. Miles’s father begs shamelessly and takes a trip to Key West, where he and others win thirty-two thousand dollars and he spends all of his share. Horace Weymouth goes to the home of John Voss’s grandmother at night and sees the young boy torturing a dog. The threads of these stories all share a sense of despair and futility even in the best of situations. There is no truly optimistic character in Empire Falls—the closest approximation to an optimist is the feckless Max Roby, a drunk who claims little responsibility for anything in his life and readily abandons his family in pursuit of his own, selfish pleasure.
Russo has remarked that the characters of Empire Falls all feel as though they are trapped by their circumstances and have little or no ability to alter their fates. Miles’s...
(The entire section is 708 words.)