Elizabeth Strout is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of OLIVE KITTERIDGE. She’s written two other novels: AMY AND ISABEL and ABIDE WITH ME.
THE BURGESS BOYS tackles a family who have struggled all their lives because of a tragic accident that happened when the three kids were small.
Maine, and the town of Shirley Falls, becomes a character. This town has changed over the years falling into a slump and being over run with refugees fleeing their homes in Somalia.
Religion becomes very important as we discover the reason Susan’s already fragile teenaged son, Zach, has committed a crime. No one has been murdered. Or raped. Or even sworn at. But what Zach has managed to do is unearth a can of worms that will not be contained quickly or easily. This very quiet and unassuming teenager has been silently suffering since his mom and dad divorced. His mother is a strange bird to say the least. His father has left the country to live in Sweden; is only in contact with Zach through email, and only on occasion.
The Burgess boys have never been close. One has a twin, Susan, the mother of Zach, the boy charged with the crime. The boys escaped the strangling confines of their hometown many years ago; both ending up in New York City: Jim to become a famous trial lawyer, while Bob ends up being a much less important lawyer. Bob is divorced from his childhood sweetheart. She chose to move on once she realized Bob was not able to father a child; her clock was ticking. Jim is comfortably married to the mother of his children and solidly ensconced in a law office where he is well-respected and makes boo-coo bucks.
Susan knows she is in big trouble when she finds Zach is in trouble. She calls her brothers to come to her aid. They come. But they don’t stay. Her place is not welcoming. She keeps the thermostat so low that Bob has to wear his coat in the house. And Susan has never been one to cook…anything. She and Zach usually toss mac and cheese or a frozen pizza in the microwave to nuke them. Bob really just wants a drink.
There’s lots of depth to these characters. You find yourself wanting to know the whole story. How did they get to this place? Why don’t they get along? Why does Jim totally put Bob down with every breath he takes? And what is really going on within Jim’s home? Really, nothing is as it appears to be.
There’s a message about religious choice here. A message about hate crimes. A message about change. And most of all, a message of acceptance and tolerance.
Elizabeth Strout is no slouch when it comes to tackling relationships. And she has figured out how to untangle troubled families. Where we come from and who we come from really can and usually does make us into who we are. Sometimes, just sometimes, we are saved from ourselves. In this case, you’re going to enjoy watching the novel unravel.
The tragic incident that occurred to the kids and their dad when they were young, helps shape them into the tortured souls they’ve become. In this case we find that the facts may not have been as they were originally told. And that creates a change that no one could have foreseen.
You will probably pick THE BURGESS BOYS up because you really love reading Elizabeth Strout. You won’t be disappointed. This thoughtful and smart novel will keep you thinking long after you’ve flipped the last page. You’ll be longing for her next book. I wonder how many little kids remember catastrophic events from early childhood? Could they possibly understand them? Probably not. And in this case the truth changes everything.
I have to thank Randon House for my galley. Once again, you’ve managed to find another winner. Thanks so much.
Hard cover: 320 pages Pub date: March 26, 2013
One thought on “The Burgess Boys By Elizabeth Strout”
Wonderful review. I have yet to read anything by her but you know how much I like dysfunction.