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The Burgess Boys: A Novel by Elizabeth…

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

by Elizabeth Strout

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Title:The Burgess Boys: A Novel
Authors:Elizabeth Strout
Info:Random House (2013), Hardcover, 336 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:LT Early Reviewers

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The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (2013)

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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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The Burgess siblings come from a small town in Maine. Brothers Jim and Bob both moved away to New York City, but their sister Susan stayed behind. Recently, the town has become a home for a community of Somali refugees, and everyone's lives are disrupted when Susan's son commits a strange and horrible act: tossing a bloody, severed pig's head into the Somalis' mosque, with, apparently, little concept of the implications and even less idea why he did it.

It's a good dysfunctional-family story, with delicately observed characterization and lots of complex themes about secrets, guilt, the alienation of feeling out of place, the connections and distances between people in small towns and big cities, and the ties people maintain to the places they're from, whether they like it or not. I don't think it was quite as great as the previous Strout novel I read, Olive Kitteridge, and it I think it makes a bit of a misstep with its framing-story prologue. But Olive Kitteridge was, admittedly, a tough act to follow, and this one was not disappointing. ( )
  bragan | Aug 14, 2015 |
I had reservations about reading The Burgess Boys before starting, mostly because I feared it would be a little too whitewashed and lack the edge or quirkiness I usually like in the novels I read. Still, I didn't want to shut out a book that was getting good buzz because of preconceptions I might have about it.

The novel alternates between New York City, the current home of Jim and Bob Burgess, and the small Maine town of Shirley Falls, where they grew up and left behind their sister, Susan. The siblings are brought together when Susan's awkward and lonely son is accused of committing a hate crime, sending the town of Shirley Falls and the Burgess family down paths they never intended to take.

Many people have complaints about novels when they can't find redeeming qualities in any of the characters or can't relate to anyone. I'm not one of those people. I'm totally fine reading a book where I hate everyone...if I find the characters to be interesting. Unfortunately, my reservations were mostly right and that wasn't the case with The Burgess Boys. Almost every character was a textbook stereotype; so much so that I almost found myself cringing when Strout's plot dug the characters deeper into their stereotypical roles (ugh, Jim).

The only character that seems to break from that mold is the Somali leader, Abdikarim, who gives background on the community and its opinion on the hate crime in a few sections. This is where I feel Strout missed a chance to really take this novel to a different place. Rather than dedicating time to Bob's ex-wife Pam, which seems out of place, I would have rather seen more from Abdikarim or other Somali voices to bring more balance to the novel.

I can, however, see how Elizabeth Strout could have won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, though I haven't read it. Her writing does have an easy, flowing style to it that is very appealing. With this being such a character driven story, I think reviews are going to depend heavily on how each person interprets everyone in the novel. For me, I've seen them all before. ( )
  rivercityreading | Aug 10, 2015 |
Really loved Olive Kitteridge but this was not as good. Interesting and I liked the main character but it just seemed like she was trying to do much here and never got deep enough into the individual storylines. Really good characters though. ( )
  RachelGMB | Aug 5, 2015 |
I liked how the story was resolved and I like Elizabeth Strout's writing. this one was somewhat slow throughout, but had a satisfying ending. ( )
  bereanna | Aug 4, 2015 |
On the whole, I liked it, altho the characters are very dysfunctional people. It kept me wanting to read on, and left me with a feeling of hope for their unhappy lives. ( )
  Rozey | Jun 5, 2015 |
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To my husband

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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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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.
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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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