I read Richard Russo’s Empire Falls a few years ago and described it as a slow burn. I put it down several times, thinking I was bored with it, but after a few days, I found myself thinking about the characters and then devouring 150 pages at a time. Mohawk had the same effect on me, only reduced by about 50%.
Set in Mohawk, NY, a dying northern industrial town, Mohawk is very much like Empire Falls in that it’s not really about anything other than the stories of the town’s residents. There are unhappy marriages, unhappy wives, unhappy factory workers, unhappy waitresses…it seems as though the entire town is a little bit grey and downtrodden.
But that’s classic Russo – stories about the quiet desperation that is played out in small towns across the country, towns that are hanging on by the barest of threads. Stories of the waitress who has worked at the same greasy diner for twenty years, serving men as they grow older with each cup of coffee she pours for them. Stories of the long suffering wife who harbors a secret crush on her cousin’s husband, dreaming of the day when they can run away together, and then when the opportunity is finally there, when they can finally be together free of their spouses, she backs out and retreats to her mama’s house. Stories of the town bookie who tries to pay a dead man’s winnings to his widow, only to be greeted with scorn and suspicion.
This wasn’t Russo’s best – in fact it almost felt like a practice novel for Empire Falls – but Russo at his worst is still a much better writer than most.
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