When it comes to story and characters, Empire Falls is a fine read. The setting and the language are good. I was certainly enveloped in the town of Empire Falls and the characters it was peopled with. Also, I liked the narrative as it rotated through the various perspectives. What I did not like about Empire Falls—and this was a pleasure killer—was the inflated narrative style. Every sentence to every scene that happened in the present was followed by paragraphs of back story. Had all but the most relevant back story been excised the novel would probably be cut down by two-thirds. For a story set upon raging waters, the style was rather stagnant. Much too bulky for my tastes.
Overall, Empire Falls was a decent read, but I have a feeling this ballooned style is indicative of Russo. That makes me really hesitant to jump in again. Maybe I will someday, but I'm certainly in no rush.