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The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth…
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The Burgess Boys: A Novel (original 2013; edition 2013)

by Elizabeth Strout

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1,3581625,659 (3.73)207
Member:tloeffler
Title:The Burgess Boys: A Novel
Authors:Elizabeth Strout
Info:Random House (2013), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:LT Early Reviewers

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The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (2013)

  1. 00
    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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Showing 1-5 of 163 (next | show all)
I had read all the novels by this author except this one. So I thought I would read it, but was very disappointed. The narrative was not strong enough to keep me reading. I lost interest very early and pushed to finish.
Once again, Shirley Falls, Maine is the focus, where a boy named Zackary threw a pig's head into a synagogue and was charged with civil rights violation. The Burgess boys are his uncles, both lawyers.
There was some good language but the plot was week. ( )
  bettyroche | Apr 22, 2016 |
Elizabeth Stout's latest novel, The Burgess Boys, introduces us to the whole Burgess family. The boys, now middle aged men, are Jim and Bob. They both escaped their hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, as soon as they could and are currently living in New York City. Susan is Bob's bitter, divorced twin sister who stayed in Maine with her teenage son, Zachery. When we meet the Burgess boys, Jim is a well known, successful corporate attorney. He married Helen, a wealthy socialite who is devoted to Jim and making his life comfortable. Jim is still basking in the laurels he received from defending a famous client in Maine years earlier. Jim constantly belittles Bob, a divorced Legal Aid attorney, who seems to amicably drift through life, perhaps a bit befuddled and carrying latent guilt for a childhood occurrence, but taking everything in stride.

The boys receive a call from Susan begging for help. Her son, Zach, has committed a thoughtless misdemeanor that has serious social/political repercussions, not only in their community but in the state. It is causing a media frenzy as a hate crime against Somali refugees who have immigrated to Maine. Although the Burgess family has not been close, Bob rushes to Maine to support Susan and Zach. What Susan wanted, however, was Jim's support. Jim and Helen told Bob to go to Maine while they proceeded with their vacation plans. Bob's help seems inept and he is told this by Jim and Susan. But, as the novel progresses, everything is not quite as it seems. There are hidden anxieties and secrets.

The story is told from the point of view of several characters: Bob, Helen, Susan, Zach, Bob's ex-wife Pam, a friend of Helen's, and a leader in the Somali community, but not Jim. These are all very realistic characters with the foibles and frailties that many middle-aged people encounter along the way. The story is about family loyalties, disappointments, community, isolation, ego, racism, and anxieties. The novel itself is broken up into 4 parts and they flowed smoothly and quickly for me. Each of the characters had an individual voice, and everything was expertly blended together to tell the story.

The Burgess family is a very dysfunctional family, and Strout excels at capturing the very human emotions and feelings of her characters with remarkable sympathy, wisdom, and poignancy. The clarity and keen insight she manages while describing very realistic observations about the human condition is commendable. There were times when her writing just left me breathless. Literally breathless. The depth of character she creates and the intense discernment she manages to capture in a few sentences is brilliant.

The Burgess Boys doesn't end with all storylines reaching a graceful conclusion, but like life, the novel is better for this.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Random House via Netgalley for review purposes.

( )
  SheTreadsSoftly | Mar 21, 2016 |
I enjoy books with redeeming characters and nearly nixed this one 3/4 of the way through. It seemed everyone was on their worst behavior most of the time and it was looking like no one would redeem themselves. I am glad I finished, though I can't say anyone came through glowing. It felt like Zach's character, though huge to the story, was highly undeveloped. Then again, perhaps it was masterful storytelling that had his character so shadowed by the siblings, particularly Jim. This isn't a favorite and I'm not going to be recommending it to anyone. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
A family living in northern Maine a half century ago - 3 young children in a car together in the driveway - one lets the clutch up, just playing, and the car runs over and kills their dad - and from that point on, each child goes through life with guilt and pain that shapes them in some way - no spoiler here as this is how the book begins -

I was moved by this novel - issues of a minority culture moving into a very homogenous community and the subsequent fear and hatred of difference; of a family moving apart and then together in a whole new way; of people being very much who they are, yet changing in unexpected ways - a well written, thoughtful book about some very lost, yet very real people. ( )
  njinthesun | Feb 19, 2016 |
It was the delicate flow of the writing that carried me through this book, not the subject matter. I'm just sick of hearing about New York City and Baby Boomers whining about how things didn't work out the way they'd planned and how surprised they are to be growing old. I have trouble caring about people who willfully avoid self-reflection, in spite of all of the hours they spend on therapists' couches. I have trouble feeling sorry for people who've leveraged their privilege to engineer their lives just as they want them, and when (or if) they finally realize that they're vacuous people living meaningless lives, they sabotage themselves, giving themselves yet another reason to repeat the "woe is me" mantra.

That's not to say that I'm not just as ridiculous and self-indulgent and whiny and unpleasant. But at least I'm self-reflective enough to recognize this and to know from the start that life isn't going to have any more meaning than we assign to it, and even then we die and disappear from the Earth. Life owes me nothing, which is something the main characters of The Burgess Boys seem not to grasp.

At the center of the novel are issues of race and immigration and the ambivalence and uncertainty felt by both the Somali immigrants and the residents of the Maine town where they've settled, but to the main characters, they themselves are the center of the story. It's completely realistic because we're all the stars of our own lives and no matter how much we try to connect with the struggles of others, we're always going to feel our own personal struggles more acutely, but this reflection of reality just depresses me right now.
Of course this isn't Elizabeth Strout's fault. She just wrote a beautiful book that puts the spotlight on unpleasant people while the good people---Margaret Estaver and Abdikarim, mostly---are stuck in the shadows. But of course, because they're good people, they don't mind not being in the spotlight.

Sure, by the end the main characters seem to be on the verge of learning something important and becoming decent people, but I dislike them so much, I find it difficult even to cheer for their maybe-success. Maybe I was in a bad mood when I read this book, or maybe it's just the Gen-Xer in me who can't quite appreciate this one. This novel hardens my heart, and I don't want to have a hard heart. ( )
1 vote ImperfectCJ | Feb 10, 2016 |
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To my husband

Jim Tierney
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My mother and I talked a lot about the Burgess Family. "The Burgess kids," she called them.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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.
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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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