Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys
Author: Elizabeth Strout
Published: March 26, 2013
Genre: fiction
Hardcover: 336 pages
Source: borrowed from the library

My Rating: 3 stars

Synopsis (from GoodReads): Haunted by the 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 possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten 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.

My Thoughts: I have hears so many people rave about Elizabeth Strout's work that when I heard that this book was being released, I decided that I would have to give her a try. The description of the book intrigued me and had me pulled in before I even read the first chapter. The book is a study in the relationship of siblings and how events that occur during childhood shapes each sibling differently. There is Jim, the oldest and most outspoken of the bunch, definitely the leader of the group. Then there are the twins, Bob and Susan. Bob has followed his older brother in the field of law, although working far below his potential (at least as Jim sees it) by working at Legal Aid. Then there is Susan, who has remained in their hometown of Shirley Falls raising her son, Zach, after her husband divorced her and moved to Sweden. There are a host of issues that the siblings deal with (I won't get into here), but when Zach commits a hate crime, all of the siblings are brought together in Shirley Falls to help and reconnect for the first time in years.

Each character in this book is a unique individual and Strout really takes the time to craft each one. Each has a distinct personality and you feel like you understand each one over the course of the book, which is hard for any author to do. Jim is definitely the bossiest and the leader, but I think that he is the one who is explored the least. There is a shocking revelation from him about two-thirds of the way through the book, but you still don't entirely understand him or his motivations. He is mean and rude to his brother Bob, who has loved him since childhood and always looked up to him. You can understand why Susan turned into the person that she did when you learn about her interactions with her mother, and Bob is pretty easy to get from the get-go of the story. But each grows as the novel continues and Strout always keeps it interesting.

For me, this was a bit of a letdown, but it wasn't a bad novel. Strout is a great writer and an excellent crafter of characters, but this novel was just a bit of a drag for me. I felt like there was more that could be done, but Strout held back just a little too much. I will look into her other works in the future, but if you haven't read her work before, then this might not be the novel to start with.

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