Richard Russo, , read by Ron McLarty. . Harper Audio, $42.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-694-52559-1
In the small Maine town of Empire Falls, replete with long defunct logging and textile mills, the Whiting clan embarks on its inexorable demise. The family has owned the town and controlled its environment, economy and inhabitants for generations. Why and how they bring about their own demise unfolds slowly, character by character, incident by incident, year by year. Listeners move as if by free association back and forth in time, layering the lives of Whitings and Robys, and learning about the families' complex interweaving that shapes all of their members. The book begins slowly, but readers are drawn ever deeper into the social saga and closer to the characters' strengths and weaknesses. Protagonist Miles Roby, forced by his mother's early death to abandon his college career, returns home to manage the Whiting family's Empire Grill, and meanwhile deals with divorce, devotion and devastation. McLarty sports a fine reading voice and makes excellent narrative choices. He has only a few special voices (e.g., Miles's profligate father), but it's always clear who is speaking. Free of emphatic attempts at characterization or dramatization, his subtle, unobtrusive narration allows Russo's terrific story to shine.
Reviewed on: 09/03/2001