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Richard Russo's novel Empire Falls explores many family relationships. We learn about Tick's father's beautiful mother Grace and her relationship to C. B. Whiting. We learn about Miles Roby's father Max who is a drifter and a freeloader. And we learn about Janine, Tick's mother.
When the story opens Janine and Miles are divorcing. Tick is enrolling in a new school, and as a troubled teenager from a broken home, she is sullen and depressed. Miles, though, loves his daughter very much. In fact, the two of them are much alike. Both are honest and compassionate individuals, and try very hard to do what they think is right. Tick takes up for the outcast John Voss at school, doing her best to protect him against Zack's torment, and Miles volunteers to rebuild the steeple of the Catholic church.
But like most parents and teenagers, the relationship between Tick and her parents is somewhat distant. Each has his own worries and issues, and true communication is rare. Tick does not reveal her problems at school to her father, but neither does her father confide in Tick about the problems at the diner or with others in the town. Tick's mother Janine is working on her second marriage with a fitness guru who lied about his age. She is much too busy to be a true presence in her daughter's life.
When Tick is wounded at school by the explosive John Voss, the family pulls together once again. They have always loved each other, but because each has been so involved in his or her own issues, they have rarely communicated. One of the major themes of the novel is the harm that suppressed feelings cause. By the story's end, the members of the family learn to open up a bit more about their fears, guilt, and past.
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