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The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys

by Elizabeth Strout

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1,8191835,755 (3.69)247
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    Run by Ann Patchett (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: A dramatic incident provokes adult siblings to explore their lives and relationships in these moving and lyrical novels. While more about family than race, both books include thought-provoking meditations on the complexity of racial relations in 21st century America.… (more)

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Story of three adult siblings drawn back together to deal with a possible hate crime committed by one sibling’s son in their hometown of Shirley Falls Maine.
As always, the author has a way of drawing you in and wrapping you into the family and the surroundings. ( )
  readingfiend | Mar 24, 2019 |
Very well written. I always like reading an Elizabeth Strout novel. She creates interesting characters, and she has a deceptively simple, yet engaging style of writing. I never get bored of her. ( )
  cjservis | Mar 6, 2019 |
Families have secrets and secrets within secrets that live on to cast shadows in the present.

While the Burgess kids were playing in the family car, the car is accidentally put into gear. Their father run over and killed. Blame goes to four year old Bob Burgess, who, from that point onward is made a target of his older brother Jim's sarcasm and passive aggressive wrath.

Both boys became lawyers; both chose to leave the small town in Maine where the accident happened and have practices in New York.

But that's where the similarities end. Jim is handsome (once voted sexiest man of the year), a partner in a high profile legal practice and the father of a picture perfect family. Bob does low paying legal aid work and is divorced. Jim disdains Bob. Bob persists in maintaining the unhappy relationship with his brother.

Their sister Susan, decided to stay in their small hometown in Maine.

But the dynamics in the town are changing. Somali refugees have been resettled into the town and the small town is reeling at this very different population with limited English.

When Susan's isolated and withdrawn teenage son throws a pig's head into a Somali mosque, the state does not consider it a mere prank, but a hate crime with serious legal consequences.

Susan reaches out to her lawyer brothers whom she has not seen for years.

I found this a sympathetic look at the refugees. The reader sees relationships within the Somali community as well as their relationships with the small town. white community.

The focus of the book does not stay with the problem with the refugees. The pig's head incident is almost pushed to the background, as the case winds on, we see the Burgess siblings come to terms with who they were and who they are.

4 stars. I think I'll remember this one. ( )
  streamsong | Feb 8, 2019 |
I should probably start off this review by stating that I absolutely loved Olive Kitteridge, one of Strout’s earlier books that has received some mixed reviews. Strout’s stories won’t appeal to all readers. She has a habit of getting under the skin of her readers with her unwavering portrayal of, shall we say, characters that are not easily likable for the reader. I love her characters because they are “real”. They make mistakes. They say things that they may – or may not – regret later. For Strout’s characters, life does not come with a user manual. They learn (and hopefully adapt) when the unknown crops up. The results are not always pretty. In The Burgess Boys, Strout continues this character formula and tackles a number of topics, ranging from family dynamics to the economic decline of small town America to the politics of immigration and social intolerance. One reviewer nailed the gist of the story with this statement: ” It never hurts to be reminded that how we see ourselves and others is usually distorted by untruths, half-truths, and incomplete information. But being human, we try to define our world and the people in it based on the scanty information that we have.” Through Strout’s unidentified narrator, we get to see Jim and Bob’s relationship ebb and flow and redefine itself as events develop. We also get to see glimpses into their sister Susan’s more limited world of Shirley Falls as well as gain some, albeit limited, perspective on the Somali resettlement from the point of view of some of the refugees. Written in clear, straightforward language, Strout makes no apologies for this story or her characters, including Jim’s arrogance and overinflated ego. As I mentioned earlier, Strout’s stories will not appeal to all readers. For me, the racial ignorance/intolerance angle makes it an interesting and timely read. ( )
1 vote lkernagh | Aug 24, 2018 |
Based on the flap copy, I expected this story to focus on the inflammatory tale of a young boy, Zach, arrested for throwing a pig's head into a mosque in a small town in Maine, and the racially-divided townspeople's reactions to this hate crime. Strout introduces some Somali characters here, but never takes them anywhere, and occasionally drops in mild epithets to explain the complacent attitudes of the Mainers towards the immigrant Somalis, but that's as far as it goes. This aspect of the story just eventually faded into nowhere. Instead, Strout takes a left turn and begins to explore the relationships among Zach's mother, Susan, and her two brothers, Jim and Bob.

The Susan/Jim/Bob dysfunction was mildly interesting, but not nearly as introspective as the relationships explored in Strout's other work. These characters were slightly more one-dimensional: the difficult sister, the ignored but has a heart of gold middle brother, the asshole litigator eldest brother. I didn't really care for any of them. The minor characters were much more fascinating - the Somali refuge, the woman minister who's aims are only vaguely described, Bob's conflicted ex-wife. Those characters would have possibly made a more interesting story than the trio of Maine upper-middle-classers dealing with a long ago family tragedy.

My main complaint with this book? Jim was a self-indulgent, insecure, arrogant asshole and everyone kowtowed to him. Over and over and over again. "It's okay, Jim, we know that you were rude to everyone, but you've had a difficult time keeping up with all your lies. Poor Jim! Come here and give me a hug!"

Kill him, already. Come on, Bob, throw a drink in his face. Kick him out, Susan, and slash his tires. I kept waiting for this to happen and it never did. It left me exhaling at the end with a "that's it?" expression on my face.

If you've never read Strout, start with Olive Kitteridge or Amy and Isabelle. They're both awe-inspiring. Try this one if you're a die-hard fan, as I am. I'll keep reading anything she puts on paper and I'd love to take her out for tea. Call me, Elizabeth, I still love you!

This review is also posted on my book review blog: flyleafunfurled.com
( )
1 vote ErickaS | May 2, 2018 |
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To my husband

Jim Tierney
First words
My mother and I talked a lot about the Burgess Family. "The Burgess kids," she called them.
Back in New York, calling from my twenty-sixth-floor apartment one evening, watching through the window as dusk touched the city and lights emerged like fireflies in the fields of buildings spread out before me, I said, "Do you remember when Bob's mom sent him to a shrink? Kids talked about it on the playground. 'Bobby Burgess has to see a doctor for mentals.'"
"Kids are awful," my mother said. "Honest to God."
We did this kind of thing, repeated the stuff we knew.
And so it began. Like a cat's cradle connecting my mother to me, and me to Shirley Falls, bits of gossip and news and memories about the Burgess kids supported us.
A short pause, and then Bob said, "Yeah," his voice dropping into an understanding so quick and entire–it was his strong point, Helen thought, his odd ability to fall feetfirst into the little pocket of someone else's world for those few seconds.
She was thin as kindling.
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Book description
Haunted by a freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possible could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a legal aid attorney who idolises Jim, has always taken it in his stride.

But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan - the sibling who stayed behind - urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has landed himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
Haiku summary
Did Bob kill father?
Did Zach act out a hate crime?
And what about Jim?

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Catalyzed by a nephew's thoughtless prank, a pair of brothers confront painful psychological issues surrounding the freak accident that killed their father when they were boys, a loss linked to a heartbreaking deception that shaped their personal and professional lives.… (more)

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