Wednesday, March 5, 2014

THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess boys and their sister Susan, collectively known as the Burgess Kids, grew up in Shirley Falls, Maine, but the boys are now lawyers in the Big Apple.  Jim is rich, thanks to his wife Helen, and famous, thanks to a high-profile murder trial.  Bob is more the teddy bear type, not ambitious, and trying to make his way emotionally since his divorce.  The story revolves around Susan's maladjusted 10-year-old son Zach, who has thrown a pig's head into a Somali mosque during Ramadan.  Needless to say, he's in need of his uncles' legal assistance and some serious psychotherapy, but he is not the central character here, and we don't quite no what to make of him anyway.  Susan is a single mother, about as likeable and sensitive as an armadillo, and she, Jim, and Bob also grew up in a matriarchal household after their father died in a tragic accident.  In fact, the "accident," as the three siblings nebulously refer to it, is really more pivotal to this story than Zach's foolish crime.  The "accident" has gone largely unaddressed by these three until now, although it has haunted Bob's psyche his entire life, and probably that of the other two as well.  Family revelations start to emerge, leaving us with new takes on these characters, though not in such a drastic manner as in The Dinner. These discoveries allow the characters to reinvent themselves as they reevaluate what's important and what mistakes they can still rectify.  I liked this novel so much more than Strout's blockbuster, Olive Kitteridge, because this book is more cohesive and follows a nice, sequential path, with an explosive beginning and a tidy wrap-up.

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