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If you like Richard Russo's "Straight Man," you'll love "Empire Falls."

"Straight Man" was the first selection of the Buffalo News Book Club, and one that our readers responded to very vocally and favorably. We predict you will be similarly taken with Russo's most recent novel.

In "Empire Falls" Russo returns to a decaying, blue-collar setting, as well as to his recurring themes of love, lust and loss; money and classism; responsibility, submission and abdication.

The novel's protagonist, entrenched diner owner Miles Roby, is the long-suffering Everyman who stars in every Russo novel. A beaten down middle-aged man who gave up a promising future to work at the Empire Grill because of his nice guy nature, spends much of the novel contemplating his past, present and future. He's helped in this pursuit by a large cast of secondary characters, including his soon-to be ex-wife, Francine, his teenage daughter, Tick, his father, Max, and Empire Fall's version of Mr. Potter in "A Wonderful Life," among others.

As the book unfolds, it becomes impossible not to see how Miles' life experiences mirror the rise and fall of Empire Falls -- that he has been buffeted by occurrences both within and outside his control, and that, like the town he personifies, he must take control of his future.

Russo is so skilled at rendering life in a dying small town -- its joys and frustrations, the tendency of its residents to be either detached, enmeshed, or both -- the vividness will hit readers between the eyes and deep into the heart. He infuses his characters, whether human or geographic, with a poignant compassion, but stirs in enough comedic material to keep them from becoming maudlin.

The book's plot and back story unspool with a cinematic grace, making it a sure thing for a film adaptation. HBO has wrapped production on an upcoming three-hour, made-for-TV version of the novel, which stars Ed Harris as Miles, Helen Hunt as Francine, Paul Newman as Max Roby and Joanne Woodward as the domineering Mrs. Whiting.

"Empire Falls" is a book you won't want to put down, but you will, because you will not want the story to end.


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