Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Aug 27, 2002

I mentioned earlier this summer that I wanted to read Richard Russo’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls. I started the book last month, and I savored every word of it, but I didn’t finish the book until today (which I should have devoted to reading my assigned readings for class). Simply put, the novel is great writing. It is a spellbinding story with numerous insights into life, parenting, high school and small-town society. Toward the end of the book, Russo writes,

”Just because things happen slow doesn’t mean you’ll be ready for them. If they happened fast, you’d be alert for all kinds of suddenness, aware that speed was trump. ’Slow’ works on an altogether different principle, on the deceptive impression that there’s plenty of time to prepare, which conceals the central fact, that no matter how slow things go, you’ll always be slower.”
I felt a fleeting sense of dread as I considered I might find myself years from now finding I was too slow in realizing my dreams, too slow in understanding the reality of my existence. Russo’s main character, Miles Roby, is a looking glass I encourage you to encounter.

Last week two of my professors, independently of each other, made references to Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken. They remarked on the irony of the poem that most people miss: Frost, they said, is telling us that the choice of roads was inconsequential at the time, but hindsight will assign value to the one taken. Or as Russo might write it, the choices we take have a way of slowly getting us to where we are today, and that might dawn on us quite suddenly.

Anton Zuiker

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