The characters in Empire Falls go through many changes throughout the novel. By the end of the novel Miles is changed drastically. He begins the novel as a slow moving, trusting, somewhat depressed individual. By the end of the novel, Miles has achieved an epiphany. No longer letting the world step on his dreams, Miles goes after with a roar the dreams and desires that have lain dormant for twenty years. His ex-wife, Janine, also comes to realize that the dreams she thought she had are not necessarily what she wants after all. Janine comes to accept herself for Janine, instead of flailing around wildly trying to find herself in outward appearances. Tick has learned a lesson that we all come to at some point in our lives, that people are not always good and there is danger in the world.
Charlie Mayne tells Miles that "There are things that grown-ups intend and want to do, but somehow just can’t." (p. 472). In all of Empire Falls, this theme is echoed. There are dreams denied or put on hold. There are characters desperately trying to do what they think is right but failing miserably. The entire town is moving in slow motion toward their own individual explosions. The novel itself meanders along, like the Knox River. Russo says in the Preface, "What water wanted to do was flow downhill by the straightest possible route. Meandering was what happened when a river’s best intentions were somehow thwarted." This is what the population of Empire Fall’s has been doing for twenty years meandering. To emphasize this theme, Russo himself meanders, oftentimes leaving the reader wondering when something dramatic would happen. In life, this is what so many people do also. People are always waiting for something to happen, always hoping that their waiting is the right thing to do and everything will come out right in the end. But all this attitude does is cause a build up that explodes when the dam bursts, as can be seen in the events that unfold in the last chapters of the novel.
Russo won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel, Empire Falls. The paragraph above emphasizes the main reason that I find for the novel being such a success. The manner in which Russo is able to actually weave this concept of ‘waiting’ into his story by creating a feeling of time moving slowly, of anticipation. By the middle of the novel, I was ready to explode with frustration I, like the residents of Empire Falls, was desperately waiting for something big to happen. Towards the end of the novel, Tick is thinking to herself and she says, "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" and also "Slow works on an altogether different principle, on the deceptive impression that there’s plenty of time to prepare" (p. 441). Certainly, in this novel the reader could never be ready for the climax at the end. You are lulled into a sense of complacency that sets the tone for the suddenness of the end of the story. There is never ‘plenty of time to prepare’ in this life because there is no way of ever knowing twist life is going to throw next.
K. Y. Hamilton, BA, MA - Copyright 2002, 2006