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The Burgess Boys: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, March 26, 2013
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An Amazon Best Book of the Month, March 2013: It can’t be easy to sit down and write a new novel after your last, Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize (in 2009). The pressure! The pressure! In The Burgess Boys, novelist Elizabeth Strout somehow manages to survive whatever next-book anxiety while at the same time revisiting the themes and types of characters that have made her famous: plainspoken Mainers (some transplanted now to Brooklyn) bound together by both love, competitiveness and the issues of the day. Here, hotshot lawyer Jim and bighearted Bob Burgess come together over a politically incorrect prank perpetrated by their sister’s son--and discover that their distrust of each other has never really gone away. But then, neither has their love. Nobody does buried conflict and tortured familial relations better than Strout. --Sara Nelson
Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2008) delivers a tightly woven yet seemingly languorous portrayal of a family in longtime disarray. Brothers Jim and Bob Burgess, and sister Susan, are mired in a childhood trauma: when he was four, Bob unwittingly released the parking brake on the family car, which ran over their father and killed him. Originally from small Shirley Falls, Maine, the Burgess brothers have long since fled to vastly disparate lives as New York City attorneys. Egoistic Jim is a famous big shot with a corporate firm. Self-effacing Bob leads a more low-profile career with Legal Aid. High-strung Susan calls them home to fix a family crisis: her son stands accused of a possible hate crime against the small town’s improbable Somali population. The siblings’ varying responses to the crisis illuminate their sheer differences while also recalling their shared upbringing, forcing them finally to deal with their generally unmentioned, murky family history. Strout’s tremendous talent at creating a compelling interest in what seems on the surface to be the barest of actions gives her latest work an almost meditative state, in which the fabric of family, loyalty, and difficult choices is revealed in layer after artful layer. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is the first novel from Strout since her Pulitzer Prize–winning, runaway best-seller, Olive Kitteridge, and anticipation will be high. --Julie Trevelyan
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Susan, their sister, has never left Shirley Falls. Divorced, she lives a meager existence with her sullen son, Zach, who works at a Walmart. Shirley Falls, for reasons which are not clear, has become a destination for refugees from Somalia and there is racial tension, if not outright belligerence. Each population is wary of the other. During a Ramadan prayer service at the Shirley Falls mosque, someone throws a pig head in the front door, creating terror in the Somalis, amusement in the police who are first called, and outrage from the press who turn the incident into a news story with legs.
Jim and his wife, Helen, sipping wine in their brownstone in Brooklyn, are packing for a vacation at a swanky resort in the Caribbean, accompanied by Jim's boss and the bosses wife. Bob has stopped by for a drink and the three are about to walk to a restaurant for dinner when an hysterical Susan calls asking for Jim. Zach has confessed to his mother that it was he who threw the pig head into the mosque. He is terrified and can't believe it is national news as he only did it "as a joke." Jim is disgusted with his nephew and angry that he might have to give us his vacation to go to Shirley Falls to deal with what he believes is a tempest in a teapot misdemeanor. After a heated conversation, Bob agrees to go to Shirley Falls to deal with the situation there and Jim and Helen head for their island vacation.
While Bob and Jim see the incident as annoying, an assistant D.A. sees a career making trial if she can get the pig-head incident declared a hate crime. When Bob arrives in Shirley Falls, he takes Zach to the police station to turn himself in. Zach is whisked away but Bob, seeing no real problem, believes Zach will be sent home and end up paying a fine or doing community service. Meanwhile, forces are at work to make sure Zach goes to trial as perpetrating a hate crime and that he does jail time.
The story is told from several perspectives: Helen's, Bob's, Jim's, and one of the Somali's. We learn about the lives of each character beyond their connection to each other. What made this book for me was the dialogue. The conversations are so crisp and real, if a movie is made of the book, the script is already written.
There are no heroes, no villains, but rather people with opinions and beliefs that cloud their thinking and affect their behavior. For all their dissimilar natures, the Burgess family is still a family and the outcome is never really in doubt - hardly likely that Zach will do serious time over the pig-head incident. If there is a moral here, it is that pig-headed describes most of us who cling to our resentments and denials or our rose colored glasses and it sometimes takes a family crisis to put our lives back in perspective or to face an unpleasant reality. I loved it. You should read it.
Most of this story is about Jim and Bob, both lawyers in New York Vity. Jim a high powered lawyer with a very wealthy wife, Bob working for Legal Aid, divorced and a loner. Susan lives in Shirley Falks and works in an eyeglass shop. Susan is divorced and her son. Zachary has committed a strange crime that brings Jim and Bob home to assist. Shirley Falls has become a home to a new Somali community, and into,era he has become a problem in the town. This is a story of our times.
Elizabeth Strout is such an excellent writer. Each book tells its own story, but also brings other characters into the fore. We meet the family in depth, and delve into their lives, their past and present, their behaviors, and their actions. Mistakes are made, people don't real,y talk to each other. Love is there, but for some reason, it is difficult to explore. You will become engrossed with the book, and the characters within. We find Shirley Falls and New York City in more depth, and come to understand the areas where Bob and Jim lived. Again, this is a story of our time.
Recommended. prisrob 07-17-17
Both brothers are called back to Maine when their nephew is accused of a hate crime, and how they deal with the consequences of their lives is the core of the book. The Somali immigrants living in the small Maine town provide contrast to the lily-white existence of the Burgess children. Ultimately, each character in the book comes to grips in his or her own way with the exigencies of life.
Characterization is the strength of the book, with the reader recognizing the people Strout has brought to life...if not necessarily wanting to befriend them. The book kept me engaged, and it was the source of one of new favorite quotes. The quote is from page 254, "No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is."
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The Burgess Boys is an interesting study in sibling relations, race relations and the meaning of...Read more