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Richard Russo, a Maine native, is the author of several praised novels, including the Pulitzer Prize winner Empire Falls. While his name does not resound as loudly as the likes of another author from Maine, Stephen King, Richard Russo’s writing captures the essence of small town living. He describes the struggles that come along with the ingrained attitudes and routines of New England families.
Born in Johnstown, New York and educated at the University of Arizona, much of Richard Russo’s fiction revolves around small town life in New York and New England. His work often focuses on interpersonal relationships and the feeling of being isolated in the midst of poverty or, simply, lack of external stimulation. Empire Falls, for example, centers on Miles Roby, the manager of a failing diner in a former mill town in rural Maine. Richard Russo focuses on Miles’s struggle to cope with his life in general and his place in the world, but also his relationship with his precocious teenage daughter whom Miles adores but can see growing apart from him.
In a Richard Russo novel, it is not uncommon to encounter a town which is either on its last legs or already dead. In fact, it often seems that Russo creates these towns to be a character itself, effectively influencing the characters and their decision-making as they interact not only with other characters, but also with the setting. There are very stark similarities between Empire Falls, Maine, the setting of Empire Falls, Bath, New York from Nobody’s Fool and Thomaston, New York from Richard Russo’s most recent novel, Bridge of Sighs. Each setting seems to have a drastic influence on its residents and the events that occur throughout the novel.
Russo's handle on blue-collar towns and people perhaps stems from his upbringing in such surroundings. One of the prominent themes in his writing is missed opportunities, something that most residents of struggling towns such as Empire Falls – and the towns in which Russo spent his childhood -- encounter regularly. The main character in Russo’s Nobody’s Fool, a down-on-his-luck man named Sully, seems plagued by poor decisions and missed opportunities, which is much the case with another of Russo’s characters, Max Roby from Empire Falls. Both seem somewhat surly and bedraggled, but often ambivalent to their surroundings and the people populating their existence. Thematically, Russo has a firm grasp on small, has-been New England towns and the people that still struggle to populate them.
Richard Russo spent many years as a professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. He retired from Colby and now lives in nearby Camden, Maine with his wife and two daughters. His complete list of titles is as follows: Mohawk, The Risk Pool, Nobody’s Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls, The Whore’s Child and Other Stories, and Bridge of Sighs.