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happened. Yet perhaps this dainty Proust of the juverdlia provides the bestexplanation: "As a man with imagination you can enjoy only in regret or in anticipation—that is, in the past or in the future." Thank Christ for that future then. (CF) Empire Falls by Richard Russo Knopf, 2001, 483 pp., $25.95 This novel, his fifth, is Richard Russo's masterwork. It is set in a dying mill town in Maine. The hero, Miles Roby, has quit college to come home and run the Empire Grill. He is a Charles Bovary sort, decent and hardworking but unlucky, a man whose idea of ambition is to gentrify the dinner menu and maybe someday inherit the restaurant from Mrs. Whiting, the widowed scion of the town's founder. (Perhaps as a quid pro quo for ownership of the restaurant , Mrs. Whiting is pushing Miles to date Cindy, her only child, who was crippled long ago in a car accident .) The anchor of the restaurant's staffis Charlene, a busty, pot-smoking waitress whom Miles has mooned over since high school. Miles' mother is dead, and his father is an old-fashioned bum with poor personal hygiene who drinks a lot and continually cadges money in his attempt to spend the winter in Florida. Miles does get along weU with his teenaged daughter, Tick, especially since his wife, Janine, ran off with the owner of a fitness club, Walt Comeau, the "SUver Fox," a fellow who hangs out at the Empire Grill and keeps challenging Miles to arm wrestle. MUes has offered to paint the local church, which is declining in tandem with the town as a whole, but the task is made more difficult by MUes' fear of heights and by the fact that one of the two priests, the older one, who is somewhat demented, thinks that Miles is a "peckerhead." There are a dozen more characters, nearly aU of whom are people who have never left Empire Falls. Two outsized tragedies frame the novel, but most of the events and conflicts are humble, as befits the setting: a vicious tackle in a local football game, a blatantly unfair art teacher, a student driving lesson gone wrong, meals with the demented priest, dustups with the local slow-witted cop. Many of these incidents are as hilarious as events in Russo's previous comic novel, Straight Man. Russo has been working for years to this end: the perfect blend of sympathy and satire. He is one of the few American authors who can depict smaU-town life without resorting to grotesquerie. Empire Falls is one of the best books of the year. QS) The Quick and the Dead by Joy Williams Knopf, 2000, 308 pp., $25 As with her previous books, both novels and short-storycollections, Williams uses her latest novel to articulate a barrage of social commentary, this time through the characters of three teenaged girls. With the perception and wit of seasoned critics, Alice, Annabel and Corvus approach young adulthoodanditsaccompanyinginsanity , notably disabled by the absence of their mothers. 202 · The Missouri Review Atice, Williams' mostblatant mouthpiece , approaches each new happening with a surprisingly plausible combination of innocent wonder and jaded experience. A poster girl for gifted children , she spouts offon subjects ranging from animal rights to human consumption patterns. She beUeves herseti to be on the way to greatness, seeking "to possess a savage glitter." Her passion for causes provides her best friend, Corvus, with the opportunity to indulge her own morbid tendencies. Annabel completes the trio; she is the blossoming debutante, better suited to a "normal" life than the other two, although she knows better than to believe in such a fantasy. The three girls travel through the local desert, encountering people and situations so bizarre that the reader, although perpetually startled, nevertheless acquires a sense of being there, of recognizing a simtiar madness in ordinary daily experience. In the course of the story, the girls manage to pick their way into the world of grownups, relying on each other to decide which lessons are valuable. It comes as no surprise that their standards differ not only from those of the adults they encounter but also from those...


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