Once Broken Faith by Seanan McGuire

Once Broken FaithOnce Broken Faith

by Seanan McGuire
http://seananmcguire.com/bio.php #10

Mass Market Paperback, 350 pg.
Daw, 2016

Read: January 14 – 17, 2017

My name is October Daye. My father was a human; my mother was, and is, a Firstborn daughter of Oberon, making her one of the more powerful people among the fae, and a definite pain in my still-mortal changeling ass. I was born and raised in San Francisco, which explains my willingness to stay in a city that’s historically been full of people who insist on trying to kill me at the slightest provocation. Faeries are real. Magic is real. My tendency to greet dangerous situations by plunging headfirst and seeing how long it takes to get myself covered head to toe in blood is also real.

I live an interesting life.

It drove me crazy to not be able to get to this for four months — and now having read it, I think I’m even more mad that I put it off. But the important thing is that I got to read it. Now I have to try to do something more than sound like raving, mindless fanboy here. Which will be difficult, because when it comes to Toby Day, that’s what I’ve been since book 3 (and was pretty close to it since halfway through book 1).

It’s been a few weeks since Toby overthrew the King in the Mists and things are pretty calm — she, her Fetch, her Squire, her fiancée and the rest of her friends are happy and comfortable. Which we all know can’t last for long.

What ruins this state this time is a giant conclave of North American Fae royalty being held in Queen Arden Windermere’s knowe — overseen by the High King and Queen. Kings, Queens and other nobles that we’ve met and/or heard of already — and many others — are meeting to discuss and decide what to do with the cure for elf-shot. The political and legal ramifications of the new cure are far bigger than anyone — including readers — thought. The discussion will prove to be a clash of traditionalists, reform-minded people, class-conscious rulers, those in favor of helping Changelings, and those who can’t be bothered to care about Changelings.

As this is a Toby Daye book, it doesn’t take too long for dead bodies to start to show up — and the blood (much of it Toby’s) starts to flow. As the hero of the realm, it’s Toby’s job to find out who’s responsible and stop them from shedding any more blood.

So there’s political intrigue, a closed room (well, knowe) murder mystery — but that’s not where the heart of the book is. It’s in Toby and her family. Toby and her liege are still on the outs, Arden’s brother and closest friend were elf-shot, Quentin’s parents are in town and watching him closely, Tybalt has to keep her at arm’s length to preserve his independence as King of the Cats in this setting, and so many other things. There’s plenty of drama in each area of the book, enough to satisfy any reader, but when you add them all together — it’s that special blend of magic that only someone as good as Seanan McGuire can conjure.

This one ticked every emotional check box for me — including the ones that made me very aware of all the dust in my immediate vicinity. I can’t think of a problem with this one — I’m not so much of a fanboy that I can’t see problems with McGuire’s work, but the last few in this series have been so great. There are few books this year that I’m looking forward to as much as/more than the next Toby Daye, and books like Once Broken Faith are the reason way. It doesn’t get much better than this.

—–

5 Stars

Sons in the Son by David B. Garner

Sons in the Son Sons in the Son: The Riches and Reach of Adoption in Christ

by David B. Garner

eARC, 400 pg.
P & R , 2017

Read: October 23 – December 11, 2016

At the heart of Pauline soteriology is the redemptive-historically charged concept of adoption (huiothesia). For Paul, the entirety of our redemption—from the mind of God before creation itself until its eschatological completion in our bodily resurrection—is expressed by filial reality, filial identity, and a filially framed union. As we will see in the following pages, this filial grace in Christ Jesus is expressly and implicitly, in Pauline theology, adoption.

I remember the first time I was really introduced to the doctrine of Adoption — sure, the idea had been mentioned throughout my Christian life, and using some material from an Ancient History class on Roman culture, I’d developed my understanding a bit, but it wasn’t until I’d been Reformed for a year or two that I heard someone seriously discuss the doctrine — the elder of the church I belonged to at the time walked us through the Westminster Confession’s teaching on it — the most robust development and explanation of the doctrine in Reformed Confessional history. I recall being struck by this teaching, how vital it was — and then hearing very little about it (on the whole) for the next couple of decades.

You see, despite being one of the three benefits the Westminster Shorter Catechism says that they who are effectually called partake of in this life (the other two being justification and sanctification, with several benefits that flow from or accompany these three), by and large, it’s been ignored in favor of the other two. Garner will describe it as a “deafening theological silence characterizing huiothesia [adoption] since the WCF.” It’s a slight exaggeration, but only slight.

Garner wants to push this doctrine to the forefront, to the limelight that it deserves, has pursued this in various forms throughout the years, and now brings it all into focus through this outstanding book.

He begins by describing various approaches to the topic — historically, linguistically, and so on — and sets out how he will proceed and build upon the best (primarily: Calvin and Westminster). This is a daunting section, but does well setting forth the landscape. It was interesting and thorough, I don’t know that it wowed me at any point, but it certainly whet my appetite for that which lay ahead.

Part 2 is where the major Biblical heavy lifting takes place — Garner goes for in-depth exegetical looks at each text that touches on the topic, building both a case for each text individually, as well as a Biblical-Theological whole. I will be honest, a lot of this went over my head — at least the details. But Garner writes in a way to ensure that even untrained laity can follow the his train of thought.

In part 3, Garner brings Adoption into Systematic Theology, primarily discussing its relation to Justification and Sanctification. He brushes up against some of the recent Justification controversies here, and demonstrates how a better understanding of Adoption, can (and should) play a significant role in resolving them. He does similar work with some Sanctification controversies — but not as much, partially because Justification has been a larger issue of late, and because historically Adoption has been (incorrectly) considered as forensically as Justification. This section probably takes more work to understand than the Exegetical section, but that could be just because I don’t try to get too much of a handle on the Greek, and I don’t have that hang up with English. Takes more work, sure, but doable.

Garner isn’t writing for laity explicitly, but he doesn’t write in a way that’s only accessible by theologians and scholars. Yeah, you sometimes there’s a lot of technical jargon to wade through, but it can be done (if nothing else, you feel smarter — and probably learn a couple of things). It was a bit weightier than most of what I’ve been reading lately, and I took my time with it to make sure it didn’t overwhelm me (it easily could have).

It’s absolutely worth the effort — this book is full of pastoral application, it will help you understand and appreciate the Pauline texts — and will deepen your assurance. This is quite possibly the best book I’ve read this year. Read this one. I will re-read it — I’m even going to buy a hard copy when this is released, you should, too.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from P & R Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this. I meant it, I’m buying a hard copy as soon as I can.
N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

—–

5 Stars

Hunted (Audiobook) by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels

Hunted Audiobook Hunted

by Kevin Hearne, Luke Daniels (Narrator)
Series: Iron Druid Chronicles, #6

Unabridged Audiobook, 9 hrs., 52 min.
Random House Audio, 2013

Read: November 21 – 23, 2016


I loved listening to this one this week — hated for it to end. I’m not sure why this volume works so much better for me than others in this series (not that there’s a bad one in the bunch), but it does. I’m still pretty satisfied with what I wrote the first time I read the book, so I’ll pretty much copy and paste it below with a few minor tweaks and a word or two about the audio performance.

Try as I might, I can’t figure out a way to get Goodreads to let me give this as many stars as it deserves — 6. I don’t think it’s possible for Hearne to write a bad book, but Hunted is beyond good. Not that Hearne has ever seemed anything but self-assured and capable (sorta like Atticus), but he’s really firing on all cylinders here — from the jaw-dropping and series-changing events of Chapter 1 through all the plot, twists, character moments, quips, action, and development that follows — Hearne delivers with verve and panache.

I don’t know how to describe the storyline without plunging neck-deep into spoiler territory, so let’s just say that this picks up minutes (if not seconds) from Trapped and keeps going from there. Virtually every character from the previous five novels makes an appearance (if only with a name-drop), and we get a few new characters from the pages of myth (Irish, Greek and Roman predominantly, but most of Europe is well-represented here) as well from Hearne’s own imagination. Our favorite Druids face off with a couple of new opponents, try to broker a peace with Greek and Roman pantheons, prepare for Ragnarok, and try to suss out who amongst the Tuatha Dé Danann might be working to bring about their untimely demise. (clearly, our heroes don’t get a lot of rest in these fast-moving 300 pages to get all that addressed)

Not that Atticus has had an easy go of it since the beginning of Hounded, but Hearne really puts the hurt on him this time around. He has two of the closest calls I can remember a first-person narrator dealing with in recent history — and he gets both of them in one book! Though honestly, the emotional and intellectual challenges he faces are probably harder for him to deal with — his Bear charm and tattoos can’t help him with those. Naturally, he rises to the challenges and even pulls off a couple of schemes that would make his buddy Coyote proud. While remaining Atticus at his core, there are flashes of a ruthlessness and hardness that we haven’t seen much of before. A good reminder that a Celtic warrior was formidable opponent (thankfully, there are things that still make him balk!)

While most of the book is told from Atticus’ POV as usual, we do get a few chapters from Granuaile’s POV — Daniels is able to pull these off well, I should add. I appreciated seeing things from her perspective (not just the parts that Atticus couldn’t relate, either) and I learned a lot more about a character I thought I knew pretty well already. I think she’s just about at the point where we could get Granuaile novels with minimal use of Atticus (see the Joe Pike novels) and not feel we were missing much — if anything, the fight scenes might be a bit more savage. There’s a danger here (I think Atticus himself sees this) in her becoming too much of an eco-warrior (think Captain Planet as told by Tarantino), and I think that could make for problematic reading if it went on too long or too extreme. But until then, I’m enjoying the heck out of this warrior woman.

If you’re already reading this series, you’re in love with Oberon (or have no soul). If you’re not reading it, you’ve probably not read this far — but if you have, just know that it’s worth buying the 6 books just to spend time with this most wonderful of Irish Wolfhounds. This is the best use of Oberon yet — of course, he’s hilarious and inappropriate as always — but he also gets to be heroic, inspiring and even moving. I’m not kidding, my eyes got misty a couple of times just because of him. I remembered — very clearly — Oberon’s response to Atticus’ shooting as very moving. Luke Daniels’ work made it heartbreaking (thankfully, I knew what happened afterwards, or I’d have been openly weeping at my desk). A couple of hours later, I did audibly crack up when Oberon used Mercury’s leg for a fire hydrant. Similarly to the way that the audio performance made Oberon’s grief more tangible, his joy in the Epilogue was incredibly contagious.

Any book that does all that while pulling off things like citing Wheaton’s Law within a few pages of quoting Dante (in the original!) needs to be celebrated. Add in Daniels’ outstanding performance? An absolute winner.

—–

5 Stars

‏Eleanor & Park (Audiobook) by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman, Sunil Malhotra

Eleanor & ParkEleanor & Park

by Rainbow Rowell, Rebecca Lowman & Sunil Malhotra (Narrators)

Unabridged Audiobook, 8 hrs., 57 min.
Listening Library (Audio), 2013
Read: May 31 – June 1, 2016


Okay, so yesterday I talked about a book that was hurt by the audio narration — this is one that’s helped by it (but not much, because it really doesn’t need much). I read this back when it came out, and gave it 4 Stars — which boggles my mind, was I a harsher grader back then? I remembered liking it more than that, though. Anyway, this audiobook is the perfect example of what the medium can be.

It perfectly captured the flavor, the emotion and the detail of the original. Now, it didn’t become all about the performance, the narrators brought the words to life, but not at the expense of the text.

Lowman and Malhotra were spectacular — they were Eleanore and Park. You fall for them while the characters were falling for each other, and when they expressed emotion, you certainly felt it. Well, I don’t know about “you,” but definitely me.

I’m really not sure what else I can say. This is a perfect story about first love, how it defines who you are in a way you didn’t expect — how it reveals the best of you and improves the worst of you. Using these two social misfits to tell this story grounds it in a way that the Prom King and Queen couldn’t — I just loved it. It’s probably the best thing Rowell’s done, and it’s one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever heard.

—–

5 Stars

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection by Michael R. Underwood

Genrenauts: The Complete Season One CollectionGenrenauts: The Complete Season One Collection

by Michael R. Underwood
Series: Genrenauts, #1-6

Kindle Edition, 544 pg.
2016


Parallel to our world are various worlds populated by fictional characters in a wide variety of genres (Western, SF, Romance, etc), and when things go wrong in the stories, things go wrong in our world. For example, broken Romance world stories = higher divorce rates here. In this world, there are a number of teams of story specialists who shift to the other worlds to fix the stories and set things back on course here. Leah Tang — a struggling stand-up comic by night, struggling receptionist by day — is the newest recruit. Join her as she learns the ropes, rights wrongs, struggles with ethics, and gets shot at while cracking jokes.

Originally printed as 6 episodes in 5 novellas, now collected in one season-long omnibus, Genrenauats as become one of my favorite series this year and I’m glad to get one more chance to talk about it with the release of the collection this week.

There’s a great cast of characters here, all of which deserve the reader’s time and focus. For example, I was tempted to not-really-ignore, but relegate Angstrom King to back burner status in my mind. He’s the leader, he points the team in a direction, but the real excitement’s with the rest. This was a mistake on my part — think of him like Capt. Picard. Sure, for the most part he sits around in his ready room with some Earl Gray (hot) — but really, some of the more interesting things that happen in he series are because of his actions. King’s not Jean-Luc, but there’s a similar quality.

I love a good team — fiction, TV, comics, you name it — the interaction, the teamwork, the dynamics, there’s really nothing like it. There’s a great team in these novellas — some of the intra-team camaraderie got pushed aside for a little romance that doesn’t really work for me (but I get why it would for others and appreciate the way Underwood’s tackling it). Overall, it’s built on solid interactions and relationships that have plenty of room to grow and develop over the many seasons that we hopefully get of this.

Each adventure gives Underwood an opportunity to talk about various genres — to talk about the clichés, tropes, archetypes, pluses, minuses, and so on of each genre. And one visit to each won’t be enough to fully explore these. Don’t get me wrong, we’re not talking Master’s Theses-esque discussion, he jokes about them, plays with them, sometimes turns them upside down while telling his tale.

The collection includes:
The Shootout Solution — We meet Leah Tang, Angstrom King and the rest of his team. We’re also introduced to the concept of Genrenauts, Story Worlds, the effects that they can have on our world — also, we get a pretty decent story in Western World. Not bad for 148 pages. (For more details, you might want to read my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Absconded Ambassador — The team goes to Science Fiction World to help out on a DS9-like Space Station. On the verge of a major treaty being finalized and signed, the Terran ambassador has been kidnapped. It’s up to King and co. to rescue the ambassador and keep the shaky alliance from crumbling in her absence. We learn a little more about everyone, and while having a lot of fun with genre conventions. ( my original blog post, my blog post about the audiobook)

The Cupid Reconciliation — The team gets back up to full strength in time to go rescue a Rom-Com gone awry. Underwood really lets things fly when it comes to observations about the genre and playing with conventions while using them for comedic — and narrative — value. Also — a couple of seeds that were planted in the first two novellas are watered enough that you can see season/season-plus story arcs beginning to grow. The series took a big jump in quality here. ( my original blog post)

The Substitute Sleuth — A Police Procedural needs some help, a no-nonsense cop’s off-the wall/out-of-the-box partner takes a bullet and another pair of mismatched detectives needs to come in and close the case. We get some major backstory stuff here, and the season arc is moved along nicely. The detective story itself isn’t my favorite, but what Underwood does with the tropes, themes, conventions, etc. is really good — it is more of a TV detective story than a novel detective story. Think Castle, not Harry Bosch (whoops, thanks Amazon, you ruined that point…). ( my original blog post)

The Failed Fellowship (Part 1 & 2) — This think kicks off with Leah Tang ranting about fantasy fiction and 5 episodes later, she gets to spend 2 episodes in Fantasy World, where a Chosen One with a Magic Artifact story has fallen to pieces. Leah’s in hog heaven, the rest of the team are at the top of their game and Underwood is, too. Rollicking good adventure. Best of the batch in every way. ( my original blog post)

I dig this series, and having all of the novellas in one handy collection is going to make it easier (I hope) for others to discover it — the collection is also a little cheaper than buying all the individual stories, which will also going to make things easier for people to discover it. If you haven’t dipped your toe in this world/these worlds yet, what are you waiting for?

—–

5 Stars

A Hundred Thousand Worlds by Bob Proehl

This was supposed to post on July 21, believe it or not, but that morning before work, I gave it one final skim and decided it wasn’t right. I made a couple of notes and cancelled the post. And then promptly forgot about it. I’ve tried a couple of times since then to address the notes, but sadly, they were too note-ish and not enough worked out to really help me remember what I wanted to address. So…I’ve had to settle for this. The book is better than my post (they usually are, in case you haven’t noticed)

A Hundred Thousand WorldsA Hundred Thousand Worlds

by Bob Proehl

Hardcover, 354 pg.

Viking, 2016
Read: July 13 – 16, 2016

Only you can decide where your home is. And every good story is about finding your way there.

I want to invoke The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or one of the Grossmans, or Ernest Cline — but who isn’t invoking them when it comes to this book? So consider them invoked, I’ve done my duty, and now I’m going to avoid them. Proehl’s book about people attending a series of Comic Conventions will attract those are into “Geek Culture,” but it’s not really targeted toward them (us). The book is set in the world of Comics and SF, but that’s it — it’s just where this novel about mothers and sons, artists of sundry stripes finding their place in the world, and a boy learning about story happens to take place.

Val, an actress on a now-cancelled show that’s sort of X-Files mixed with Fringe (and how many of you want to watch that show, right now?) is spending a few weeks of the summer going from Comic COn to Comic Con on a cross-country trip with her son, Alex. She’s not an unemployed actor, she’s busy off-Broadway, but isn’t flush, so the Cons are paying their way to L.A., where a major shakeup in their family structure is going to take place. As they move West, we travel through time to trace Val’s relationship with Alex’s father, up to the devastating events that led to her moving to New York with her son and iwthout her husband. Val is having a hard time wrapping her head around the fans attending the Cons and what they expect from her — but she’s getting it.

Alex is almost too perfect — which is a pretty big danger when it comes to writing kids, they’re either too precious, too precocious, too stupid, too . . . well, you get the idea. Alex is clever, intuitive, and sensitive. He’s got a great imagination, and just needs a little direction as a creative-type. (N.B.: This is one of those paragraphs I needed to develop better and failed to, for those of you keeping score at home.) He’s the hinge that all this stuff hangs on — as much as this is a story about Val (more than anything else), without Alex it just doesn’t happen. Entire posts/articles/essays could and should be written about Alex — but they’ll have to be done by people better than me. He’s not entirely realistic, but he’s a great character.

Gail is an up-and-coming comic writer, who may have found her level in the industry (lower than anyone wants). She has a couple of good friends who are rooting for her. While she travels form con to con, she wrestles with her own personal demons and history and dos what she can to help others with theirs. Her new friendship with Val is one of those things that will reward them both.

Brett is an artist/co-writer of an indie comic with his long-time-friend. The two aren’t having the best time working together anymore, each getting distracted with their own projects. From future professional gigs to helping Alex out with his story.

Alex’s “Idea Man” and the traveling troupe of female cosplayers are deserving of far more attention and analysis than I can provide — so let me just say that they’re all fun to read, thought-provoking and ignored at the reader’s loss.

Val didn’t know the name, but she knew there was a lot of excitement around it. It’s something she likes quite a bit about this little world: the capability of those within it to get deeply and sincerely excited about things. She wonders how they fare in the real world, where excitement is poorly valued, and she tries to think of things she has been excited about. There are so few.

If “the capability . . . to get deeply and sincerely excited about things” isn’t one of the best descriptions of contemporary Geeks, I don’t know what is.

There are a handful of goodies for those who are into Comics, SF and whatnot — the Doctor Who analog is great, ditto for the Alan Moore and Green Lantern analgos. There are some that are more subtle, too. I think I got most of them, but I’m sure I missed a few.

The writing is strong — although Proehl has a couple of ticks I could do without. For example, I’m not sure how many times he said something like, “Before she got her start in comics, Gail ran . . . ” and then talked about her blog. Once would’ve been enough with that (although it does fit in nicely with the origin-story thing he has going on, and maybe that’s the point). I don’t know that you could call this “light” at any time, but there is an optimism (mostly) throughout — but an optimism tinged with realism.

At the end of the day, this was a very compelling tale, full of characters that you wanted to spend time with (more time with, actually). Proehl might give one or two storylines a very “happily ever after” feel, but some of them are left to the reader to conclude on their own. I liked that. Nicely written, compelling characters in a setting that is very relatable — how can I not love this?

—–

5 Stars

United States of Books – Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Believe it or not — this was almost a lot longer, but I trimmed a lot to hopefully make it better.

Empire FallsEmpire Falls

by Richard Russo

Hardcover, 483 pg.
Knopf, 2001


A few years ago, my parents took a trip through New England in the Fall to look at the leaves — I know, not an original idea, but for people from the Northwest, it’s not as common as it is for others. One of the places they drove through was Empire Falls and were telling me about some HBO series/book based there — I was vaguely aware of the book, having recently finished Russo’s Straight Man and told them that they’d probably enjoy it. I don’t think either of them gave it a shot (I could be wrong).

A few months later, I got around to reading it myself — wow. It so different in style and content from Straight Man, but it took me a long time to read, and (best of all) it was fantastic. It sent me reeling and made me want to read more by Russo. Sadly, the next book I read by him just about killed that (That Old Cape Magic). A couple of years go by and I decide to read all of his novels in order. When I get to Empire Falls, I skipped it. I just couldn’t do it again. I really didn’t enjoy about half of Russo’s novels, but I couldn’t deny the power of them, nor his skill. Nobody’s Fool, for example, I really didn’t enjoy — but here I am a couple of years later, and I still find myself thinking about a couple of characters and scenes at least three times a month. That’s staying power. (no, I haven’t gotten to the sequel that came out this year, for reasons I don’t fully understand)

Incidentally, I liked That Old Cape Magic better the second time around — actually, I think that was true for Straight Man, too. Liking Cape Magic was almost a given (would be hard to like it less), but I really enjoyed Straight Man the first time out — the second time I loved it. Both of those books deal with a different kinds characters than the rest of his books (including Empire Falls, which I’m getting to — I promise). Most of his books are about small towns and their citizens, usually dealing with economic hardships on the municipal and individual level. Frequently, cafes and bars are used to get the characters to interact with each other and there’s typically one guy who drinks too much, is fairly unreliable, yet everyone likes and enables. There’s humor, tragedy, history (actual and fictional), mixed with character and family struggles. Empire Falls checks every single box on the “what makes a Richard Russo novel” list, but does it bigger. If you’ve read Empire Falls, you’ve read almost every one of his books — which is not to say you shouldn’t read the rest (especially Straight Man and Bridge of Sighs) — but you’ll get a good idea what kind of things Russo typically deals with and how he does it.

Richard Russo is what Jonathan Tropper, Nick Hornby and Matthew Norman (and many others, probably, but these are the three I’m most familiar with) could easily become if they got a little more serious and a little darker. On the whole, the latter three are more entertaining (and funnier) — but Russo can pull that off when he wants to. You could also say that Russo is what Jonathan Franzen could be if he lightened up and got less pretentious. But mostly, you can say that I’m a giant fan.

Why am I blathering on? Mostly trying to give context for this post, but partially because it is just daunting to try to talk about this book — especially in something that’d make a decent-length blog post and not a full-fledged dissertation. But I’d better suck it up and get to it.

Empire Falls won Richard Russo his (seemingly) inevitable Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and stands as one of the greatest achievements in his storied career. It is at once a story about a town and a man, microcosms for the state and the nation; it’s both sweeping and epic while being personal and intimate.

The story centers on Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill in Empire Falls, ME. He has an ex-wife (who I truly despised), a daughter (who I wanted more of), an ex-mother-in-law that seems to like and respect him a lot more than her own daughter, s (even if they don’t see eye to eye much lately). But more importantly he has a patron — the town matriarch, owner of the Empire Grill, and most of the various places of employment in town. She’s a patron, a would-be surrogate mother (for a select few), and petty tyrant over the city. It’s one of those small towns where the mayor/council/etc. have real power, but it’s only the power she lets them have, you know? Francine Whiting isn’t evil — well, I’ll let you decide for yourself — but at the end of the day, she thinks she’s doing what is right for Empire Falls, the Whiting legacy and her daughter — whether or not anyone wants what she thinks is best. She still could be evil, I guess, and I could very likely made a case for it. Anyhow, let the reader decide.

The trials and dreams and efforts of Miles and his family as he tries to do something different with his life are the core of the novel — but they’re not all of it. The town is full of interesting people — many aren’t vital to the overall story (but you can’t know until the end who those are), but they all add flavor. Most are so fleshed out that you could imagine a short story/novel centered on them. While reading Song in Ordinary Time a few months back, I kept asking myself what made the people in that novel so unlikeable when in many ways they reminded me of Empire Falls‘ cast. I came to this conclusion (and have since reconsidered and still think it’s basically right): Russo uses the flaws in his characters to emphasize their humanity, Morris uses the flaws to emphasize their flaws.

But I come not to bury Morris (again), but to talk about Empire Falls, so let me focus on this a bit more: the flawed humanity isn’t pretty, it’s frequently ugly, people who make mistakes (some tragic, some dumb) are usually trying to do the right/moral/noble thing and it doesn’t work. But it’s real. This could all be real. Even Janice, Miles’ ex, is a well-developed character — and I think I’ve met a handful of people just like her — and I wouldn’t dislike her as much as I did if Russo hadn’t nailed the writing.

There’s an event towards the end — one of the two or three that you ultimately realize the whole novel has been leading up to — that in 2001 would’ve been truly shocking (shocked me a few years ago), but in many ways it’s de rigueur now. 2016 readers might be bored by it, but I can’t imagine that many readers in 2001 were. I’m not going to say more — just if you read this, put yourself in the shoes of readers from 15 years ago when you get to that bit.

Yes, Empire Falls is slow (sometimes), ponderous (sometimes) but it’s also inspiring (sometimes), heartwarming (sometimes) and many other things that I could parenthetically qualify. But every negative about it is utterly worth it for the positives.

What I learned about Maine: (haven’t done this in awhile, whoops). It’s a beautiful state, filled with people who could be better educated, who aren’t vocationally ready for what’s coming for them thanks to the technological shift in jobs. It’s a state where people, nature and industry who have been damaged by reckless policies and practices. It’s a state where nature exerts itself every now and then to remind people how powerful it is. Basically, Maine’s just like every other state in the union — just a little different.

One more thing, not that this’ll surprise many, but I’d advise skipping the HBO miniseries — yeah, it’s a fairly faithful adaptation, it just doesn’t have the heart.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read this book for this series of posts — breaking a personal resolution. There were 3 reasons for this: 1. Time; 2. I really wasn’t up for the emotional punches this delivers, and 3. I didn’t need to — I still remember it well enough to discuss at a length greater than I have despite being 4 years and change since I read it. That right there should tell you something about the book — hundreds of books later and I almost feel like I read it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure that this is the Russo novel I’d tell people to start with (probably Straight Man), and I don’t think it’s his best (probably Bridge of Sighs (tells a story almost as epic in scope, with greater economy and greater depth when it comes to individual characters), but there’s no denying the talent on display here, the greatness of the execution, the vibrancy of the characters, or the impact it has on the reader. No brainer, 5 Stars from me.

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5 Stars