Richard Russo was born in Johnstown, New York, in 1949 and raised in nearby Gloversville. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree, and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Arizona, which he attended from 1967 through 1979.

Russo was teaching in the English department at Southern Illinois University Carbondale when his first novel, Mohawk, was published, in 1986.

His 2001 novel, Empire Falls received the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. He has written seven other novels and several short stories, one award winning. He has written television and screen adaptations.

[From Wikipedia]


Welcome to Empire Falls, a blue-collar town full of abandoned mills whose citizens surround themselves with the comforts and feuds provided by lifelong friends and neighbors and who find humor and hope in the most unlikely places, in this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Richard Russo.

Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it’s Janine, Miles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, who’s taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it’s the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town–and seems to believe that “everything” includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.

[From Amazon books]

 Study Questions

(If you want to make a comment about this book, please scroll down to the box at the bottom of the page.)

1. How did the detailed description of Empire Falls help set the stage for the story?

2. How would you describe the relationship between miles and Mrs. Whiting?

3. Could you think of any redeeming features in the character Jimmy Minty?

4. How does this book deal with the success of marriage?

5. How would you characterize the relationship between Miles and David?

6. How do David’s feelings about Mrs. Whiting in the empire grill differ from Miles’s?

7. How would you characterize Janine?

8. Which member of the Roby family is most complete?

9. Which characters would have led a better life if they had moved away from Empire Falls?

10. Did the ending of the book satisfy you?


This is now the fourth month of social distancing mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Online book club continues to read, but is not able to meet. Fellowship leading to interchange spurred on by being together is lost and it is missed.
Informal comments from readers have been positive. This was a book that was a pleasure to read. There have been no formal written comments from the group.

This is a simulation of a discussion that never took place. Empire Falls was entertaining and complex. The character of Miles Roby was almost too good to be true. Except for his reactions to negative comments about his mother, it was virtually impossible to provoke this man. He had forsaken a life outside of Empire Falls because of guilt imposed on him by a controlling woman, who with her invalid daughter was the last vestige of “old wealth” in the town. She could never get over the fact that Miles’ mother had won the love of her husband, a troubled man haunted by his accidentally running over his daughter, an act covered up by his controlling wife who he eventually deserted.

In this book the good guys were good and the bad guys were bad. Others were interesting and sometimes tragi-comical. Especially in this category were Miles’ ex-wife and her buffoon of a lover who she eventually married and divorced all in the time frame of the book. She was disillusioned but did not give up when she found on a formal document that her muscular husband-to-be was not just a 50 year old man in great shape but a 60 year old who was broke.

The school shooting scene was a play on the Columbine school shooting that took place in 1999 while this book was being written.

The downward spiral of life in the fictional town of Empire Falls has become a familiar theme in the northeast where mill towns thrived at the turn of the century and after.

This debut novel of Richard Russo which won the Pulitzer prize in 2002 is a great read and it was made into a very entertaining mini series for television. The cast included Ed Harris, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Helen Hunt with an additional cast of talented performers. It was filmed in an authentic setting and was an excellent representation of a fine book. I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed reading Empire Falls. Seeing the characters come to life especially old man Roby was entertaining – he had crumbs in his beard and didn’t give a damn.

By Gene Helveston

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