The panoramic scope of Empire Falls prompted many critics to label it as Russo’s most ambitious work to date. Is this ambition fully realized? Some critics answer with a resounding yes; Ron Charles of the Christian Science Monitor goes so far as to say, “The history of American literature may show that Richard Russo wrote the last great novel of the 20th century.” Bruce Fretts of Entertainment Weekly says, “With this deeply ambitious book, Richard Russo has found new life as a writer.”
Critics specifically praise Russo’s compassion and empathy for his characters, even the less lovable ones: A. O. Scott of the New York Times cites his “humane sympathy for weakness and self-deception—a sympathy extended even to the manipulative Mrs. Whiting.” Maria Russo of Salon notes that Russo writes “without sentimentality or nostalgia, just compassion for his characters’ foibles and deep insight into the startling, sometimes disturbing varieties of human nature.”
Russo’s humor is also singled out for praise by many reviewers. “The deadpan wit of Russo’s previous book, “Straight Man,” runs all through this more weighty novel, particularly in his devastating (and devastatingly funny) descriptions of small-minded people,” writes Charles. Fretts agrees, adding, “His one-liners can make you laugh out loud.”
Some reviewers criticized the scope of the book. James Marcus of the Atlantic Monthly remarks that “at just over 500 pages the novel feels overstuffed,” and Rita D. Jacobs of World Literature Today writes that the book “goes on for too long.” Fretts disagrees; he calls the book “dense in the best sense of the word” and claims...
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