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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 stri 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. With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout's newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.


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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 stri 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. With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout's newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

30 review for The Burgess Boys

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    This novel was one of the most really really really OK books I have ever read. It was so OK that I will forget about it after I am done writing this. Since the author of this book won a Pulitzer, I had higher expectations. In addition to the fact that the writing style was very cold and detached, the topic seemed derived and predictable. It was partly a story of family dynamics and the "ties that bind", but I found it very hard to care about the family. The characters in the family were lackluste This novel was one of the most really really really OK books I have ever read. It was so OK that I will forget about it after I am done writing this. Since the author of this book won a Pulitzer, I had higher expectations. In addition to the fact that the writing style was very cold and detached, the topic seemed derived and predictable. It was partly a story of family dynamics and the "ties that bind", but I found it very hard to care about the family. The characters in the family were lackluster and boring, just like the plot, which plodded along sleepily and frequently got lost. The other topic of the book was what I assume was supposed to be a clever commentary on racism. It wasn't. Racism is an important topic, and when discussed in a really thoughtful way, it can be powerful. In The Burgess Boys, we find multiple incidences of Americans referring to Somalis by the misnomer "Somalians". OK, so this is supposed to show an uncaring attitude. Sure. And a young boy is maybe going to get in trouble for something that maybe was racially provoked (a situation which maybe could have made an interesting story yet awkwardly faded away). And this is a racial shocker. Sure. But that's a lot of maybes and a lot of so-so incidences. The topic was clumsily covered, and Strout missed the powerful commentary I assume she was going for. I was so bored with the book that I am bored even thinking about it in order to write this. I think I might nap now and hopefully wake up to a better book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Kenneth P.

    This novel poses a major question: do you understand that other guy, that other woman? Are you sure? The book hit me between the eyes with the uncomfortable notion that we are imprisoned by our culture-- yes our beloved Thanksgivings and Christmases, our Midnight Masses, our Fourths-of-July, our sacred Yankees or Red Sox. It's all wonderful even as it blinds us. For me, the book is all about understanding that other guy. Hell, the Burgesses are family and they struggle with the issue among themsel This novel poses a major question: do you understand that other guy, that other woman? Are you sure? The book hit me between the eyes with the uncomfortable notion that we are imprisoned by our culture-- yes our beloved Thanksgivings and Christmases, our Midnight Masses, our Fourths-of-July, our sacred Yankees or Red Sox. It's all wonderful even as it blinds us. For me, the book is all about understanding that other guy. Hell, the Burgesses are family and they struggle with the issue among themselves. They do not really know one another. To be fair, it's a fragmented family. The brothers Jim and Bob and sister Susan carry all the baggage that dysfunction can possibly bring-- and then some. But if you don't know your brother or sister, how do you understand a stranger from a foreign culture? In The Burgess Boys the problem is compounded by a myriad of culture-clashes, including these: Americans vs. Somali immigrants Shirley Falls, Maine vs. New York City Open-minded people vs. xenophobic skinheads Traditional Somalis vs. Somali Bantus Ms.Strout is a terrific story-teller. Her prose just rolls along, elegant and simple. Her ear for dialogue is pitch-perfect and her characters are genuine-- they love and hate, they celebrate; sometimes they just make it through the day. When the world knocks them down they get back up. When the world is ugly they look the gray rat in the eye. The Burgess siblings, now in their fifties, carry an immense burden from their childhood. I don't think I'm giving much away when I say that a dysfunction-be-damned determination enables them to persevere. On a happier note the story has a hero, an elderly Somali gentleman who brings to America enough compassion and wisdom to transcend culture. There is a very nice prologue to the book where we meet the narrator and her mother, both natives of Shirley Falls. If you read the book, be sure to revisit the prologue upon completion. Mom and daughter gossip about the Burgess boys. In a nice piece of foreshadowing, daughter tells Mom that she will tell the story of that family. She laments that "People will say it's not nice to write about people I know." Her mother replies, "Well you don't know them. Nobody ever knows anyone."

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    cue the music to the Brady Bunch theme song Here's the story, Of a lonely lady, Who was bringing up her very lonely son. He threw a pig's head in church, Just for the heck of it, Then he was on the run. Here's the story, Of the lady's brothers, Who were scheming, competing, cheating on their own. They were two men, Telling lies together, but they were soon both alone. Till the one day when the truth came to the surface, and they knew that these were much more than ploys. That this group, Was really quite dysfu cue the music to the Brady Bunch theme song Here's the story, Of a lonely lady, Who was bringing up her very lonely son. He threw a pig's head in church, Just for the heck of it, Then he was on the run. Here's the story, Of the lady's brothers, Who were scheming, competing, cheating on their own. They were two men, Telling lies together, but they were soon both alone. Till the one day when the truth came to the surface, and they knew that these were much more than ploys. That this group, Was really quite dysfunctional. That's the way they all became the Burgess Boys, The Burgess Girl, the Burgess Boys That's the way they became the Burgess Boys.

  4. 5 out of 5

    M

    Elizabeth Strout has written another novel about Maine and its people, but unlike Olive Kittredge, which is more episodic, The Burgess Boys is a tightly woven novel about a family, its secrets, and how the guilt of one brother has defined his life, as well as that of his twin sister, their older brother, their spouses, and their children. It also traces downward spirals--some expected, some not--and the possibility (and limits) of change and redemption. Shirley Falls, Maine, home to many displac Elizabeth Strout has written another novel about Maine and its people, but unlike Olive Kittredge, which is more episodic, The Burgess Boys is a tightly woven novel about a family, its secrets, and how the guilt of one brother has defined his life, as well as that of his twin sister, their older brother, their spouses, and their children. It also traces downward spirals--some expected, some not--and the possibility (and limits) of change and redemption. Shirley Falls, Maine, home to many displaced Somalis, experiences a prank that is to be prosecuted as a hate crime. Jim Burgess, famous trial lawyer and Bob Burgess, appeals lawyer, must return to the town from their homes in Brooklyn and help out their sister, Susan, whose son, Zach, has admitted to the crime. The siblings fall into the roles they had as children: Jim, the wisecracking, critical older brother, Bob: the schmuck, and Susan: the needy one who never could get herself organized. It is not an exaggeration to say that the plot is Shakespearean in scope. I could compare it to A Thousand Acres, by Jane Smiley. It is a real tour de force, and is one of the best novels I have read this year. I'll be recommending it to all adult library patrons and will make sure our library buys several copies.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    Re-reading Olive, Again for my book club, it finally hit home that the Burgess brothers mentioned in that book were surely the main characters in this book, which somehow I missed. Given that my library had the audio book available, I quickly snatched it up. It’s so interesting how all of Strout’s books and characters are so intertwined - not just location but the same folks showing up over and over again. Unlike Strout’s other books, which read more like connected stories, this is a more typica Re-reading Olive, Again for my book club, it finally hit home that the Burgess brothers mentioned in that book were surely the main characters in this book, which somehow I missed. Given that my library had the audio book available, I quickly snatched it up. It’s so interesting how all of Strout’s books and characters are so intertwined - not just location but the same folks showing up over and over again. Unlike Strout’s other books, which read more like connected stories, this is a more typical novel format. The Burgesses consist of two boys and a girl. The twins consist of Susan and Bob, with Jim their older brother. When Susan’s son, Zach, gets himself in serious trouble, the two brothers, both lawyers, return to Shirley Falls from NYC. But the brothers are far from equals. Bob is a successful lawyer, while Jim works for Legal Aid. Strout’s strength is always her character development. And this book is no exception. They all come across as real folks, with all their weaknesses. I’m glad I waited until now to listen to this. It's a timely subject, with a young man lashing out at Somali refugees for no apparent reason. I especially appreciated a small scene when a Rabbi, trying to help, still manages to insult the Somali Muslims, implying they are not part of the community. In addition to this plot line concerning justice, racism and white privilege, we also see Strout’s take on marriage, parenthood and sibling rivalry. I didn’t love this book as much as I did her others which I’ve read. I struggled to identify with any of the characters. Part of me wonders if it wasn’t a good fit to listen to this. Her work may just be stronger in the written page. That’s not to say the narrator, Cassandra Campbell, did a bad job. Just that the pace of the book might be better read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    jo

    i am one of those people who went all gaga about Olive Kitteridge, which i thought did a magnificent, magic job at showing how someone who is by all accounts quite petty and unpleasant is also tremendously, tenderly, wonderfully human. this book is ambitious in scope -- unlike OK, it encompasses a couple of cities, a couple of states, and a number of communities. i am not saying that OK is not ambitious. its spelunking into the humanity of a not-very-likeable woman is spectacular and daring. it' i am one of those people who went all gaga about Olive Kitteridge, which i thought did a magnificent, magic job at showing how someone who is by all accounts quite petty and unpleasant is also tremendously, tenderly, wonderfully human. this book is ambitious in scope -- unlike OK, it encompasses a couple of cities, a couple of states, and a number of communities. i am not saying that OK is not ambitious. its spelunking into the humanity of a not-very-likeable woman is spectacular and daring. it's just that, here, there are more people and more geography. it seems to me that strout is trying to explore childhood damage, adult dysfunctionality, the mysterious relationships grown siblings have or don't have, miserable adolescence and place (small town maine, nyc), all against the backdrop of the somali diaspora and its tragic complications. it's not more ambitious than OK, but it's more dispersed. there are more people and more geography. now, for me, this did not come together. at all. it came together, for me, just about like (the inferior) The Submission came together, i.e. not. here are the things that don't compute in my mind after having read the book: why the boy threw the pig's head why the boy is small and scrawny and ill-adapted why the siblings don't get along why they all worship jimmy (view spoiler)[why everyone falls apart why everyone gets glued together again what makes bob do/get better what makes the sister do/get better why jimmy becomes a bum why the boy comes back home. (hide spoiler)] and then, what also doesn't compute in my mind is the role of the somali folks. no, really. i understand that maine is full of somali people and that the locals are having a hard time coming to terms with that, but this is a strange way to address that. the somali that are given some space in the book seem caricatures, stand ins, role-players, character actors ready to play the next dark-skinned, vaguely arab-looking role in the next film. it's readable, but it simply didn't come together for me.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Susanne Strong

    Dysfunction. It Runs Rampant in the Burgess Family. “The Burgess Boys” have a checkered past. One that is never spoken of. An incident occurred when Jim and Bob and their sister Susan were children. Something terrible happened. Bob has lived with the guilt ever since. Jim, the eldest brother is happily married to Helen and is uber successful. He is also a bully to his younger, less successful brother Bob, who has allowed it day, after day, after day. Susan, their sister, (and Bob’s twin), lives Dysfunction. It Runs Rampant in the Burgess Family. “The Burgess Boys” have a checkered past. One that is never spoken of. An incident occurred when Jim and Bob and their sister Susan were children. Something terrible happened. Bob has lived with the guilt ever since. Jim, the eldest brother is happily married to Helen and is uber successful. He is also a bully to his younger, less successful brother Bob, who has allowed it day, after day, after day. Susan, their sister, (and Bob’s twin), lives a quiet life in Shirley Falls, NY with her son Zach, who is quite depressed himself and whose actions show it. A grave mistake. A family in jeopardy. A Childhood Destroyed. An Abundance of Secrets. A Family who needs Each Other. Family Dysfunction Distilled to its Absolute Core. Character Development at its very best. A Brilliant, thought provoking read whose characters took hold and didn’t let go. Thank you to my local library for loaning me this audiobook. Published on Goodreads on 6.21.20.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Susan Emmet

    I well remember the controversy in Lewiston, ME in 2006 when a pig's head was thrown into a Somali Muslim mosque. It's one of the key events in The Burgess Boys, Strout's latest novel. I loved Olive Kittredge; I almost loved The BBs. Strout again interweaves stories and socio-political issues. I've lived in Maine for 46 years and yet still am labeled "from away." And this novel is largely about being "away" - from self, family, meaningful work, marriage, children, siblings, immigrants, tradition I well remember the controversy in Lewiston, ME in 2006 when a pig's head was thrown into a Somali Muslim mosque. It's one of the key events in The Burgess Boys, Strout's latest novel. I loved Olive Kittredge; I almost loved The BBs. Strout again interweaves stories and socio-political issues. I've lived in Maine for 46 years and yet still am labeled "from away." And this novel is largely about being "away" - from self, family, meaningful work, marriage, children, siblings, immigrants, tradition and change. Estranged by geography and the death of their father (the truth of which unfolds in the end), the twins, Bob and Susan, and their older brother Jim don't like each other much. Well, they look out after each other...sort of. I found Bob and Susan most endearing because they appeared able to change. Jim - not. And spouses and ex-spouses and Somali residents are deftly captured. Much to think about regarding family, how each member remembers "things," how reality and perception are often at odds, how leaving home doesn't mean home is really left behind. I went to college in Lewiston. Strout mentions The Blue Goose (reknowned for cheap beer and pickled eggs), Luigi's, the cathedral, Lisbon Street and the mills - can well remember being in those places, walking those streets. Now I live in a small town north of Lewiston where next-door neighbors raise goats for Somali customers. Afraid that many folks still don't like immigrants much, that Maine is an "aging" state, and that there are many, many people who do assimilate and "make friends" of the native Mainers (who, of course, are richly diverse people, too), I found this novel real and perceptive.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    The Hook - Is having a grandson with the last name of Burgess enough reason to read a book? I guess it is as that was my motivation. The Line - ”And she learned - freshly, scorchingly - of the privacy of sorrow.” The Sinker - The Burgess Boys was a surprise “really liked it”. I’m not certain what I was expecting but I definitely got more. When a teenager, Zach throws a pig’s head into a Somali Mosque during Ramadan, it sets a series of events in motion as you well can imagine. Zach's arrest brings The Hook - Is having a grandson with the last name of Burgess enough reason to read a book? I guess it is as that was my motivation. The Line - ”And she learned - freshly, scorchingly - of the privacy of sorrow.” The Sinker - The Burgess Boys was a surprise “really liked it”. I’m not certain what I was expecting but I definitely got more. When a teenager, Zach throws a pig’s head into a Somali Mosque during Ramadan, it sets a series of events in motion as you well can imagine. Zach's arrest brings two New York brothers back to their childhood home in Shirley Falls, Maine, to help their sister Susan. There are characters here that I truly liked and a few that I loathed, but this did not ruin my enjoyment of Strout’s writing. The Burgess Boys is about family, loyalty, sibling rivalry, secrets that haunt one, fear of the unknown, hate, guilt, anger, love, marriage, divorce, growing up, disappointments, success, failure, forgiveness, did I say family? The narration by Cassandra Campbell was able to capture the down east flavor of what it truly means to be brought up in Maine, and easily transitioned between Susan and the Burgess Boys that fled to New York. I do have to admit it took me awhile to get into the groove with this but in audio this is often the case. If I were giving rating stars to the audio I'd say 3.5

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    I can't even believe I'm giving a novel by Elizabeth Strout two stars, but I have to. It was a chore to finish, as many others have said. I have loved all of her other work, the elegance of her prose, the tiny details that speak so eloquently, the plots that move at a beautifully slow pace; it's the literary equivalent of strolling through a flower garden and not wanting to miss a petal. This one left me cold and unsatisfied. I couldn't care about any of the characters, try as I migiht, not even I can't even believe I'm giving a novel by Elizabeth Strout two stars, but I have to. It was a chore to finish, as many others have said. I have loved all of her other work, the elegance of her prose, the tiny details that speak so eloquently, the plots that move at a beautifully slow pace; it's the literary equivalent of strolling through a flower garden and not wanting to miss a petal. This one left me cold and unsatisfied. I couldn't care about any of the characters, try as I migiht, not even the "likeable" one. There was too much unrelenting misery among these miserable people. The plight of the Somalis was poorly portrayed and try as I might, I couldn't care about them either. I didn't understand many of her choices, such as the one to give away Bob's future mate. Show, don't tell; he and the Unitarian priest (and it's a comment on the novel that I finished it last night and can't remember her name) barely interact. I also didn't like Strout's essay at the end of the book.. It felt like the author was saying, if only you had tried hard enough to understand, because it's all ever so subtle. It is subtle, and it's true that "You never really know anybody", but when you've finished a good or great book, you know that book like you know a friend; warm feelings are evoked at the thought of the book, part of it becomes part of you. I only have to see the word "olive" to think of Olive Kitteridge, she is part of my heart. This book is disconnected and distant, and I can't care because Strout hasn't made me.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A solid four-star read. You may have to persevere at the beginning, because just about every one of the main characters may make you want to smack him/her about the head and face repeatedly. I loved Olive Kitteridge, so I stayed with it. If not for Olive, I may not have. I'm glad I did. The big story here is all of the familial relationships. Husband/wife, parent/child, sibling/sibling. There are some messed up family dynamics here, but all of the characters showed considerable growth throughout A solid four-star read. You may have to persevere at the beginning, because just about every one of the main characters may make you want to smack him/her about the head and face repeatedly. I loved Olive Kitteridge, so I stayed with it. If not for Olive, I may not have. I'm glad I did. The big story here is all of the familial relationships. Husband/wife, parent/child, sibling/sibling. There are some messed up family dynamics here, but all of the characters showed considerable growth throughout, which earned this book a four from me. I love the way Strout writes, and she does families and small town dynamics really, really well. The audio was good, not great. It was delivered very slowly, which was annoying at times. However, she did the Somali voices really well. The Somali storyline was interesting, but not the main event. It was the impetus that drew together the siblings and highlighted the mother/son relationship. These relationships are Strout's strength, in my opinion, so if you enjoy family and marriage dynamics, particularly where there is discord, you'll enjoy this one.

  12. 5 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    4★ “But after Susan Burgess’s son did what he did—after the story about him had been in the newspapers, even in ’The New York Times’, and on television too—I said on the phone to my mother, ‘I think I’m going to write the story of the Burgess kids.’ ‘It’s a good one,’ she agreed. ‘People will say it’s not nice to write about people I know.’ My mother was tired that night. She yawned. “’Well, you don’t know them,’ she said. ‘Nobody ever knows anyone.’ ” Ain’t that the truth? I don’t always ‘like’ El 4★ “But after Susan Burgess’s son did what he did—after the story about him had been in the newspapers, even in ’The New York Times’, and on television too—I said on the phone to my mother, ‘I think I’m going to write the story of the Burgess kids.’ ‘It’s a good one,’ she agreed. ‘People will say it’s not nice to write about people I know.’ My mother was tired that night. She yawned. “’Well, you don’t know them,’ she said. ‘Nobody ever knows anyone.’ ” Ain’t that the truth? I don’t always ‘like’ Elizabeth Strout’s people, but I’ve always loved how she describes them and their relationships with each other. I recognise everyone in this story. The father of the three Burgess children was killed in a car accident in their driveway when they were little kids, and that hangs over them still. Their mother seems to have been a woman of opinions. “My mother did not like Unitarians; she thought they were atheists who didn’t want to be left out of the fun of Christmas. . . “ Jim Burgess is the eldest, a popular New York lawyer who famously won an unlikely case defending someone who was commonly believed to be guilty (like OJ Simpson). Jim enjoys his popularity and so does, or did, his attractive, independently wealthy wife, Helen. Now she's suffering from empty-nest syndrome . . . “her children, she wanted them small again, moist from their baths”. Twins Bob and Susan Burgess don’t seem to share much twinness, other than that both are unhappily divorced (and missing their exes), and both have looked up to their big brother all their lives. Jim’s their golden boy who knows everybody. The one they call when there’s trouble. The brothers both live in New York, but Susan is still back “home”, with her lonely, troubled son, Zach, in Shirley Falls, a small, very white (until recently) town in Maine. Shirley Falls has had an influx of Somali refugees, headscarves and all, which has divided the town. When young Zach gets in trouble in Shirley Falls, what does Susan do? Call Jim. And what does Jim do? Palms off the responsibility to Bob, because Jim and Helen have a fancy holiday booked. And what does good-ol’ Bob do? Borrows Jim’s car and reluctantly drives to Maine to stay with his twin sister in in her freezing cold, miserable house and listen to her complain about the do-gooders who brag about helping frightened refugee families. “That’s how it was for me, back when Steve left. I was scared to death. I didn’t know if I’d be able to keep this place. Nobody offered to buy me a refrigerator. Nobody offered to buy me a meal. And I was dying, frankly. I was lonelier than I bet these Somalians are. They have family crawling all over them.” Incidentally, when Susan says “Somalians”, she is corrected and told it’s “Somalis”. The little town had a steep learning curve. Mind you, they’d been equally ‘welcoming’ in the past to the incoming tide of French-Canadian mill workers “who stuck to themselves, too”. And they are no longer French-Canadians but “Franco-Americans, please”. This really is warts-and-all, small-towns. I’ll spare you my own comments by hiding them here (not really a spoiler). (view spoiler)[Strout concentrates on Maine, but my experience is that people are people and towns are towns all over the world. Strangers are automatically viewed with a combination of suspicion and curiosity, depending on your age and experience. Eventually, a new lot of newcomers will arrive, and the ‘old’ lot will be accepted more as locals as they gang up on the newcomers. And my experience with community service organisations is that they all say about migrant populations “they look after their own”. Yeah, right. No, they don’t. But I digress. (hide spoiler)] The author grew up in small-town Maine but lived in New York for many years. She’s been back to Maine often to see the changes and meet its newest citizens, so she writes from the heart. This got a little too preachy and messagey for me, but I still love reading her work. She recently moved back to Maine during the Covid 19 pandemic. There is a wonderful article about her and her life in ’The New Yorker’ that I think is free to read. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/20... There’s another recent one about the conflict between “the boys and the elderly” about her people and Covid 19. https://matzavreview.com/2020/07/27/e...

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I'm really conflicted on this one: I love Elizabeth Strout, I love her writing style and the way she gets in to her character's heads - I did not love this book. I wanted to, but I just disliked the characters, and I didn't always understand them or their motivations. I would still recommend it to fans of hers, but I was disappointed by it. I'm really conflicted on this one: I love Elizabeth Strout, I love her writing style and the way she gets in to her character's heads - I did not love this book. I wanted to, but I just disliked the characters, and I didn't always understand them or their motivations. I would still recommend it to fans of hers, but I was disappointed by it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christy

    A few years ago I was looking to supplement non-fiction readers about the French and Somali communities in an intro-to-college "College and Community" class with a short fiction read about the region or state. I'd used Sex, Drugs & Blueberries the year before, but it was sad (and I agreed it was) for looking-for-hope students to see that nothing bad ended or good came of it (a life lesson, itself!) in Crash Berry's dismal presentation of the lives of some young adults in Northern Maine. (Meth an A few years ago I was looking to supplement non-fiction readers about the French and Somali communities in an intro-to-college "College and Community" class with a short fiction read about the region or state. I'd used Sex, Drugs & Blueberries the year before, but it was sad (and I agreed it was) for looking-for-hope students to see that nothing bad ended or good came of it (a life lesson, itself!) in Crash Berry's dismal presentation of the lives of some young adults in Northern Maine. (Meth and heroin are tremendous problems there, up in "the County", like in many other poor, rural areas with few opportunities left in the economy.) This book is mostly about identity. Identity within the family, self-identity, community identity. One of our dear lads was missing a bit of the latter throwing a pig's head in a mosque in Lewiston, Maine. Strout obviously was referring to the real-life incident of this exact behavior a decade ago now. Here is the NYTs report: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/05/us/... I teach in Lewiston at an interdisciplinary college of the University of Southern Maine, a community that struggled and still struggles to accept and integrate the 10K Somali immigrants in the early 2000s, as a Refugee Resettlement city. 30 miles South, in Portland, there was existing people of color, but Lewiston-Auburn (as the "twin city" is called) was lily white in this state of 98% White. Unfortunately, the Somalis came only two years after 9/11, so there was plenty of Trump-like nativism, racism, Islamophobia. I still come across students who believe that Somalis got $10K cash, free housing, cars, groceries! (The store clerks just bag their groceries without asking for pay! Free rent and healthcare for life!) None of it was true: six months rent is all that is covered for Newcomers to Maine, and most all Somalis work and therefore don't qualify for food stamps, even if they earn little enough to qualify for subsidized (far from free!) housing. The mayor had made national news, too, with an open letter to the Somalis complaining of the taxing of welfare resources and not to encourage any of their relatives to join them. (The former claim was incorrect - most all welfare benefits were going to the Irish and Franco-Whites who came for good mill jobs starting well over a century beforehand, and now had no jobs available except for low-pay, service economy "McJobs".) His letter is here: http://www.immigrationshumancost.org/.... The Somalis moved into many of the boarded up houses in Lewiston previously occupied by the mill workers, and started building a community, including starting stores in the adjacent downtown area, again filling often vacant storefronts. I can tell you students share with me their (largely White) parents do not see the positive benefits of Somalis literally fleshing out and building community and economy when they claim that "their" downtown is now "little Mogadishu", and a "dirty" place to be avoided. (I assign one class downtown where I buy them lunch so they can taste the delicious injera and spicy curries of their new neighbors, and we walk through one of their stores, including Halal groceries.) Burgess Boys also did some triggering of local students, who accepted the book as well-written and accurate, but also expressed shame at their community for being so featured, embarrassment that many would think many Lewiston residents were openly racists to the "New Mainers", and also, finally, some good anger (projection or transference, as the psychologists would say) at Strout for displaying their community in a negative light, and not understanding or presenting how many community members welcomed the Somalis (and, now, immigrants from across the sub-Saharan refugee diaspora - from Sudan, Burundi, Congo, among others. Most all students write papers drawing the obvious and even startling parallels between the French immigration from Canada, joining largely Irish immigrants in the mill jobs, where I can take students to still see the painted, fading marks on either side of a long hallway in the old mill (now turned museum) noting where workers could line up with their "kind": the green shamrock one one side and a red fleur-de-lis on the other. Students are shocked to read that community leaders then, too, criticized and insulted the new immigrants, with the local Irish priests sneering at the stupid "frogs" that were coming into their down. The differences between the Irish and French Catholic churches were clear, too, with the former advocating the importance of education (perhaps explaining the higher rise in social class by the Irish?) from the pulpit while French churches sometimes never discussed education, and were tied more to their own set of parochial schools. The French got the same prejudice expressed towards them as the newcomer Somalis were receiving today, just as the first generations of Irish did (e.g., "Irish - do not apply" postings for jobs in NYC and Boston) driving some of the Irish up the coast into Lewiston, where the mill bosses would hire them.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    The Burgess Boys are two middle-aged brothers from Maine, now working as lawyers in New York. Jim is confident and popular, still basking in the glow of a victory in a high-profile case from a few years back. Bob is divorced, an anxious but generous soul, deeply affected by his role in a serious childhood accident. When their nephew Zachary is arrested after throwing a pig's head into a mosque, Jim and Bob become involved in his defence. The crime generates a lot of media interest, and the broth The Burgess Boys are two middle-aged brothers from Maine, now working as lawyers in New York. Jim is confident and popular, still basking in the glow of a victory in a high-profile case from a few years back. Bob is divorced, an anxious but generous soul, deeply affected by his role in a serious childhood accident. When their nephew Zachary is arrested after throwing a pig's head into a mosque, Jim and Bob become involved in his defence. The crime generates a lot of media interest, and the brothers have their work cut out to keep Zachary from jail. But a bigger challenge surfaces in the form of their fragile family ties, and along with their sister Susan, they will be forced to confront some uncomfortable memories. My GR pals will know that I am a big Elizabeth Strout fan. But while I enjoyed certain aspects of The Burgess Boys, I would say this is my least favourite novel of hers. Some of the story is narrated by a Somalian cafe owner, and I saw nothing new in his immigrant's view of American culture. I also thought that some characters like Susan were underdeveloped. But the novel shines when it focuses on family and small-town life, allowing Strout's gifts of empathy and observation to blossom. I wouldn't call The Burgess Boys an essential read, but devotees of this wonderful writer will still find plenty to admire.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mark Porton

    The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is a family story set largely in New York and Maine. This story beautifully explores family relationships at all levels, it also covers important issues such as immigration, separation, loneliness, isolation and the stark differences between regional and city life. The book's structure is different to the short story format of other Strout books I have read. The Burgess Boys centres on 3 siblings, Jim and younger twins Bob and Susan. The Boys, Jim and Bob, are The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is a family story set largely in New York and Maine. This story beautifully explores family relationships at all levels, it also covers important issues such as immigration, separation, loneliness, isolation and the stark differences between regional and city life. The book's structure is different to the short story format of other Strout books I have read. The Burgess Boys centres on 3 siblings, Jim and younger twins Bob and Susan. The Boys, Jim and Bob, are 2 totally different characters. Jim is successful, arrogant, brash, famous and apparently extremely competent. Bob is more of a bumbling character, stumbling through life but he is caring, empathetic (to the extreme), big hearted and patient – but he also seems to be a functional alcoholic and a bit of a slob. But Bob is a lovely bloke, if I knew him – I would like him to be my friend for sure. This is very much a character study, as is all Strout’s work I’ve read previously and as the book progresses, we not only get to know the 3 main characters, we also learn about others such as spouses, ex-spouses, kids, nieces and nephews, friends - you name it. Strout not only dissects and examines each of these characters but also the relationships between them, in detail. For a short book, it becomes quite heavy. On top of this, we have an unusual misdemeanour to ‘enjoy’ as the case progresses through the judicial system – this seems to be a catalyst for many of the events that subsequently occur. We also get involved in issues relating to immigration, asylum seekers and refugees. Strout manages to do this very skilfully and pulls off the feat of describing the perspective of all parties in a non-judgemental manner. I really liked the way the author described the dynamics and feelings and perspectives of the ex-spouses. Bob’s ex-wife, Pam – admitted to herself “that until the day she dies, Bob will be her home” – despite Pam already moving on and remarrying. The relationship between Jim and his wife Helen, is also a major part of this story, and a very interesting one at that. The relationship between Jim and Bob was fascinating, as the story progressed this relationship took a few unexpected turns. Much of this due to a terrible family tragedy when the kids were very young. But Jim was terrible to Bob, whereas Bob idolised his older brother and was nothing but kind. As an older brother myself, I can say ‘siblingry’ (is that a word?), often results in very polarised characteristics between the parties involved. This is a case in point. These guys are classic brothers, but – if I can be allowed to be judgemental for a minute – Jim is terrible to poor Bob. I’ve only scratched the surface of what is going on in this story. It is a highly recommended read. My previous 4 Strout reads have been 4 or 5-star efforts and I will give this one 4.5, rounded down to 4. The only criticism I have is – I felt the story meandered a little in the last quarter. Maybe this is due to the thumping pace Strout delivered for the first 3 quarters of the story. This book gave me plenty of moments where I had to just sit, think and reflect, not only on my own life experiences but on the experiences of others. I need to take a break from this wonderful author for the moment as too much of a good thing can leave one wanting less – and, I don’t want that to happen! 4 Stars

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    I loved Olive Kitteridge, but I did not love this book. Both characters and story lines were poorly developed. I started out liking this novel. I thought the story with Zak throwing the pig's head into the mosque had great potential. But, it went nowhere. Why didn't Ms. Strout develop Zak's character more? Why did we never really know WHY he did that? Why did she make him so stupid...I mean, really, who in this day and age does not know that pigs might be offensive to Muslims? I never felt like I loved Olive Kitteridge, but I did not love this book. Both characters and story lines were poorly developed. I started out liking this novel. I thought the story with Zak throwing the pig's head into the mosque had great potential. But, it went nowhere. Why didn't Ms. Strout develop Zak's character more? Why did we never really know WHY he did that? Why did she make him so stupid...I mean, really, who in this day and age does not know that pigs might be offensive to Muslims? I never felt like we got to know any of the main characters very well--not like the Olive Kitteridge character. And what I did know of them, I didn't like. I can honestly say I did not like a single character in this book. The author had a great opportunity to explore more of the Somali culture and to create a real conflict when one of their leaders felt sympathy for Zak. Two parallel stories focusing on the Somalis and Zak's family could have been interesting. Instead, the pig head story just fizzles and fades away, we are shown nothing but glimpses into the Somali's lives, and we get thrown into the bizarre side story of Jim and his affair and his long-ago lie about who was responsible for his father's death. Jim, Bob, and Susan were a trio of pathetic losers. Don't waste your time with this book or expect it to be great just because you loved Olive Kitteridge. You will be sorely disappointed.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Take a dysfunctional family, raised in a small town in Maine by a mother who liked to yell quite a bit, and who raised some unlikable children, and one would usually have a novel no one would want to read. In Strout's daft hands, however, she is able to peel away the layers and make the reader want to take a second look. She gives us something, a reason maybe, and allows us to look deep inside these people and find what it is that makes them so unlikable. Once she accomplishes that, the reader i Take a dysfunctional family, raised in a small town in Maine by a mother who liked to yell quite a bit, and who raised some unlikable children, and one would usually have a novel no one would want to read. In Strout's daft hands, however, she is able to peel away the layers and make the reader want to take a second look. She gives us something, a reason maybe, and allows us to look deep inside these people and find what it is that makes them so unlikable. Once she accomplishes that, the reader is ready to go wherever she takes them. Families and what that actually means, a crisis in which some people change for the better and some for the worst. Bigotry, and showing all sides of the crisis. Characters that develop as different memories are revealed and when nothing else is left, they are still family. This is more than likely another novel of Strout's that will be picked by book clubs, and it should be. I can see much that groups will love discussing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    In keeping with my new "rules", if it doesn't appeal move on to something that does. I was interested in the beginning, but that passed very quickly and when the Somali issue arose I began to feel it was just too much like watching the news (which I promise I get enough of). I may not have given this a fair chance, but that is OK, I have limited time and I need to find those books that speak to me. I have another Strout on my shelf and will give that one a go soon. I did like the two of her books In keeping with my new "rules", if it doesn't appeal move on to something that does. I was interested in the beginning, but that passed very quickly and when the Somali issue arose I began to feel it was just too much like watching the news (which I promise I get enough of). I may not have given this a fair chance, but that is OK, I have limited time and I need to find those books that speak to me. I have another Strout on my shelf and will give that one a go soon. I did like the two of her books that I have already read. So, this one might just be the exception for me.

  20. 4 out of 5

    HBalikov

    “And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is.” Perhaps it is too late for most of the characters in The Burgess Boys, from the remnants of the Burgess family to the Somalis in Shirley Falls, Maine, to those who are trying to “make it in the city that never sleeps.” “The truth is, Bob, they need those immigrants. Maine’s been losing its young people---you and I are a perfect case in point. And the truth also is: That’s sad…M “And it was too late. No one wants to believe something is too late, but it is always becoming too late, and then it is.” Perhaps it is too late for most of the characters in The Burgess Boys, from the remnants of the Burgess family to the Somalis in Shirley Falls, Maine, to those who are trying to “make it in the city that never sleeps.” “The truth is, Bob, they need those immigrants. Maine’s been losing its young people---you and I are a perfect case in point. And the truth also is: That’s sad…Maine is just dying…Kids leave to go to college and never come back, and why should they? There’s nothing for them. The ones who stay, there’s nothing for them either…” “Bob sat back on the thin couch…He said, “I had no idea you still liked Maine.” “I hate Maine.” The most repeated phrase in the book is: “It’s going to be all right.” But, those of us familiar with Strout know that she is not focused on making this story’s arc one of rebirth, reconciliation and eventual happiness. This is another expert dissection of family relationships and life in a small Maine town. What Strout offers is a complex book with a number of characters giving us their versions of the Burgess family. Strout has a great ability to help her unhappy characters unravel. And, as they are unraveling, she shows us dimensions that weren’t evident before. --- here we leap into my stream of consciousness -- In some ways this reminded me of the Stylites : Each of Strout’s characters is on his/her own column giving us their version of life and insisting that it is THE true vision; the one that we readers should adopt. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stylite And then, when Strout makes one or more of them aware of an alternative reality, we see a character alone “on his/her pillar” having to contemplate that their preaching might have been based on mis-perception or mis-assumptions. I found it challenging (Was it Strout who was challenging me?) to empathize with most of the characters. Their lack of ability to bridge the gap between themselves and others was not for a single reason. Yet, though the reason might be different, the result was the same. There are other facets. They each see themselves as different from the person who does the things that they do. We know better. This disconnect pervades the plot and surfaces in many forms: a person who is prone to anger; or, to hostility; or to racism; or to greed; or to failure to engage. The key characters are the Burgess siblings: Jim, Bob and Susan. Their patterns of relating to each other apparently have changes little in four or five decades. We get outside perspective from significant others, Helen and Pam. “It’s not a situation she feels requires her presence,” Jim said. “That’s right,” Helen said, moving past them to go inside. “I thought I’d leave this one to the Burgess boys.” The intra-family dynamics are played out against an incident back in Shirley Falls. Susan’s adult child, Zach, has flung a dead pig’s head into the local Somali mosque. The incident makes national news and provides the reason why successful Jim and not-so-successful Bob return to their home town. More characters get the Strout treatment as the town struggles to find a successful approach to its new Somali population and the resentments of many townspeople against the new and different. Are we supposed to see ourselves in these damaged Burgesses and town folk of Shirley Falls, Maine? It is something that I am still trying to figure out. 3.5*

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nicholas

    It would be difficult to top Olive Kitteredge, and indeed this novel did not. While the writing itself is lovely, I had three real problems with The Burgess Boys that made it hard for me to love: (1) the incident at the heart of the novel--a teenage boy throws a pig's head into a Somali mosque in small-town Maine--is really just an excuse to look at the relationships between the people in that boy's family (his mother and two uncles, the "Boys" of the title). In one way, that's OK (the book is c It would be difficult to top Olive Kitteredge, and indeed this novel did not. While the writing itself is lovely, I had three real problems with The Burgess Boys that made it hard for me to love: (1) the incident at the heart of the novel--a teenage boy throws a pig's head into a Somali mosque in small-town Maine--is really just an excuse to look at the relationships between the people in that boy's family (his mother and two uncles, the "Boys" of the title). In one way, that's OK (the book is called the "Burgess Boys," after all, not "the Ahmed Boys"), but Strout then also spends a small portion of the book exploring the Somali community in Shirley Falls, Maine. But it's just too little to make the reader care about these characters or really understand their situation or perspective. The options, it seems to me, were to either write a novel about Somalis in Maine or to use a different incident as catalyst for the events that transpire between the Burgesses and just focus on them. But the way it's written, the Somalis--who are ostensibly a central part of the novel-- get short shrift and one doesn't feel satisfied with Strout's treatment of them. Add to this the fact that it's always a little unclear why Zach (the teenage boy) throws the head into the mosque in the first place, and it just feels a bit contrived, like Strout wanted very much to write about this growing immigrant community in Maine but that she also just couldn't stop herself from writing about the same sorts of Maine characters she wrote about in Kitteredge or Amy and Isabelle. (2) Why the Burgess BOYS? Yes, there are two siblings who are male, but the teenage boy's mother, Susan, is also a Burgess and she's key to the whole story, and not incidentally, the twin of one of the boys. I get that "The Burgess Siblings" or "The Burgess Kids" doesn't have the same ring, but maybe Strout needed to investigate different titles. As it is, I didn't feel that the relationship between Jim and Bob was so central that it deserved highlighting in the title to the exclusion of other characters and plot elements. This is really a story about three siblings, not just the two who are boys. (3) there's a lot that happens after the pig's head incident is actually all resolved and I just did not find most of it all that believable or necessary (particularly Jim's existential crisis about his life). While Strout writes well enough that it's quite easy to read The Burgess Boys, the novel just didn't leave me feeling particularly satisfied, especially the final part where things unravel for one character and come to resolution for others. The problems in The Burgess Boys seem to be fundamentally about plotting and overall conception, not writing itself, and because I loved Olive Kitteredge and always like reading about Maine, I'll certainly read whatever Strout publishes next. But I hope it's not like this again.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    After “Amy and Isabelle,” “Abide with Me” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Olive Kitteridge,” no one should be surprised by the poignancy and emotional vigor of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. But the broad social and political range of “The Burgess Boys” shows just how impressively this extraordinary writer continues to develop. In these pages, Strout untangles a moldy knot of filial tensions in one family while tracing the prejudices that continue to reverberate through American culture since Sep After “Amy and Isabelle,” “Abide with Me” and the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Olive Kitteridge,” no one should be surprised by the poignancy and emotional vigor of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. But the broad social and political range of “The Burgess Boys” shows just how impressively this extraordinary writer continues to develop. In these pages, Strout untangles a moldy knot of filial tensions in one family while tracing the prejudices that continue to reverberate through American culture since Sept. 11. The action revolves around three adult siblings and how their lives are transformed by a crisis that pushes them into the glare of public attention. Jim Burgess, the eldest, is a hotshot Manhattan lawyer, made famous years earlier by his dazzling defense of a singer accused (and clearly guilty) of having his girlfriend killed. A master of the universe, “the father everyone wanted,” Jim moves under a halo of expertise. People expect him to run for governor. Several magazines once named him among the Sexiest Men of the Year. He’s adored by his younger brother, Bob, a far less ambitious New York lawyer, who lives alone in a run-down apartment, divorced, a borderline alcoholic, blessed (or burdened) with an affectionate sensitivity to all. After work, “Everyone on the train seemed innocent and dear to him,” Strout writes. “He was moved by the singularity and mystery of each person he saw.” Is that a kind of spiritual sense, or is he just a sap? We can’t be sure, but what’s obvious is that his needy, stoop-shouldered personality has been shaped by the accident that killed their father when he was 4. And finally, there’s Jim and Bob’s sister, Susan, whose exclusion from the title, “The Burgess Boys,” is a fair reflection of her sad, sidelined life. Unattractive, unsuccessful and, frankly, unpleasant, she’s the only one of the family to have remained in Shirley Falls, Maine. It’s a poor town sickened by rising unemployment and frightened by an influx of Somali immigrants whom the old Mainers don’t trust or understand. Having set up this triangle of unequal siblings, Strout immediately places them under stress that will reshape their long-settled relationships to one another. Jim and Bob get a panicked call from their sister: Her weird teenage son, their nephew, has been arrested for throwing a frozen pig’s head into a mosque. The FBI might charge the boy with a hate crime. The national media are already whipping up the story, which is ready-made for TV: Racist Hoodlum Terrorizes Black Refugees. A tolerance rally is planned, with a white-supremacist counter-march. Bob drives up to help, but only makes a hash of it. Fortunately, the great Jim Burgess can pull a few strings, call in some favors. So what if he subjects his brother to withering verbal abuse? Strout spreads her arms wide in this relatively trim novel. The action moves knowingly between the rich diversity of New York and the racial bifurcation of Shirley Falls. And a number of tangential characters, from the sheriff to Bob’s ex-wife to members of the Somali community, briefly take center stage. It’s easy to imagine a different kind of novelist spinning out twice as many pages on this intricate plot, following every side street, pursuing the life of every participant. Indeed, some readers of “The Burgess Boys” will feel that too many characters are stiffed with walk-on parts, particularly the Somalis, who tempt us with more depth than the novel seems willing to deliver. But Strout often offers the kind of psychological precision and subtle detail that can effectively substitute for more exhaustive treatment. She’s particularly adept at subverting our prejudices, complicating our easy judgments of people we think we know. Jim’s wife, for instance, is a wealthy Manhattanite whose days would seem to involve nothing more strenuous than managing the household staff and selecting the right theater tickets. But in Strout’s humane portrayal, we come to appreciate the real loneliness of this brittle woman who has stood by her obnoxious husband for decades, raised their children and sent them off into the world, leaving herself “in a velvet coffin,” with nothing to do but maintain her shiny facade against the onset of irritability and pettiness. And Strout unpacks our racial stereotypes, too, filling in the full spectrum of expectations and misunderstandings that are so often obscured in the brash primary colors of the news: violent racists on one side, sophisticated liberals on the other. Afraid of these aloof, strangely dressed Africans and ashamed for feeling that way, Susan is a particularly fraught character to present in our enlightened times, but Strout never makes her a figure of ridicule or satire. Even Susan’s fragile son, the young vandal who desecrates the mosque on a foolish whim, enjoys the benefit of the author’s tender understanding. It’s not that she creates a world without hatred or cruelty — and she certainly doesn’t exonerate everyone — but she forces us to acknowledge that blame and judgment should be apportioned with care and reluctance. That’s particularly true when it comes to Bob, with his “loping easiness,” and his renowned brother, who’s so hard, so unrelentingly critical. Why can’t Bob see that Jim is a bully? Why can’t he separate himself from this older sibling who offers him only ridicule? Strout has such a sensitive touch for the habits of affection and the sinews of trauma that pull and contort our minds over decades. And she’s just as attuned to the crosscurrents of sibling dynamics — the verbal abuse that’s so easily dealt out and sloughed off between brothers who love each other. When Bob thinks, “He had no memory of life without Jim being the brightness of its center,” we get a sense of just how profound this connection is. As she showed in “Olive Kitteridge,” Strout is something of a connoisseur of emotional cruelty. But does anyone capture middle age quite as tenderly? Those latent fears — of change, of not changing, of being alone, of being stuck forever with the same person. There seems no limit to her sympathy, her ability to express, without the acrid tone of irony, our selfish, needy anxieties that only family can aggravate — and quell.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Deborah

    I received an advanced copy of this book in a Goodread giveaway. I'm conflicted about this book. I wanted to love it as I have read and loved Amy and Isabelle and Olive Kittridge. But it seemed like something was missing. It took me a long time to get into The Burgess Boys and to care about Jim, Bob, and Susan. Jim is an arrogant corporate lawyer with a sense of entitlement the size of New York. He treats his younger brother with complete disdain. Bob, who is insecure and awkward, idolizes Jim an I received an advanced copy of this book in a Goodread giveaway. I'm conflicted about this book. I wanted to love it as I have read and loved Amy and Isabelle and Olive Kittridge. But it seemed like something was missing. It took me a long time to get into The Burgess Boys and to care about Jim, Bob, and Susan. Jim is an arrogant corporate lawyer with a sense of entitlement the size of New York. He treats his younger brother with complete disdain. Bob, who is insecure and awkward, idolizes Jim and wants to be just like him. I wanted to scream "CAN'T YOU SEE HE'S AN ASS? YOU'RE WORTH TEN OF HIM!" Susan, who is Bob's twin sister, initially struck me as insensitive, mean-spirited and cold. The three siblings went through a traumatic event as children that changed the course of their lives. It's the elephant in the room that no one talks about and no one can hide from. I'm glad I stuck with this book, because it does pay off in the end. Elizabeth Strout is a gifted writer and her prose is often beautiful. One of my favorite passages comes near the end of the book. "You have family", Bob said. "You have a wife who hates you. Kids who are furious with you. A brother and sister who make you insane. And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now. That's called family". Based on the writing style alone I could give this book 5 stars, which is why I am so conflicted about it. But it took me days to plow through the beginning which is why I'm only giving it 3. I think this book might actually be better on a second reading. Thank you, Goodreads, and Random House Publishing Group for giving me the opportunity to review this advance copy.

  24. 4 out of 5

    LeAnne: GeezerMom

    What a terrific set of characters! Ensemble casts are rarely this multi faceted, and I'm happy to say that the Burgess Boys - adult brothers (but probably not their nephew) - weren't the sole players whose psyches and attitudes were open to me as a reader. You'll know from the blurb that the nephew, living in the elder Burgess men's hometown in Maine, decides to toss the bloody head of a pig into the middle of a congregation of Somali worshippers, causing outrage, horror, and the fainting of a li What a terrific set of characters! Ensemble casts are rarely this multi faceted, and I'm happy to say that the Burgess Boys - adult brothers (but probably not their nephew) - weren't the sole players whose psyches and attitudes were open to me as a reader. You'll know from the blurb that the nephew, living in the elder Burgess men's hometown in Maine, decides to toss the bloody head of a pig into the middle of a congregation of Somali worshippers, causing outrage, horror, and the fainting of a little child. The young man's bitter mother is sister to the Burgess boys, both of whom are attorneys, and she turns to them for guidance in how best to protect her son - who she claims to not be a racist - from being prosecuted for what the kid claims was a stupid prank. What especially gave me pause is that this seemingly fictional incident - a pig head tossed in amongst Muslim families at worship - was based on a real event. Those who’ve read Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home may or may not know that it too had a “ripped from the headlines” precipitating event - a child with autism was accidentally smothered to death in a fundamentalist “rebirthing” ceremony. Knowing that the Somalis had really experienced this in Maine and so had the family of the perpetrator gave this an extra tingle of relevance. I especially loved the development of an elder in the Somali community, his remembrances of home, and the way he judged the young offender. The single person of whom we do not get an interior view is this young man - in this way, it is left to the reader to assess his motivations. Every mother sees her child as innocent, but we know that is ridiculously biased by love. We get an explanation, but it is up to the audience to gauge it. Enter the Burgess Boys... In traveling back to their small home town in Maine, the middle aged brothers rehash their childhoods, one startling event that killed their father, the marriages they've both chosen, and their lives in NYC. The wives were really well rendered, just as in a family, every close relative has a role and a say-so in what goes on. Elizabeth Strout is a master of creating complex, totally believable characters, and I loved this. The narrator brings them to life beautifully. My only little issue is that the audio-actor also narrated "Bird Box" so that when she spoke as the oldest of the Burgess Boys, all I could hear was GARY! Great read... 4.5 stars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Maine Characters I loved Strout’s "Olive Kitteridge" so I was hoping for the same positive experience with “The Burgess Boys”. I wasn’t disappointed. Strout is excellent at creating down to earth relatable characters and Bob and Jim Burgess and their sister Sue are not exceptions. Bobby is an appeals lawyer handling cases outside the courtroom. Jim is a high profile lawyer who won fame in his early career by successfully defending an infamous client. Sue is a single mother of a troubled son. What Maine Characters I loved Strout’s "Olive Kitteridge" so I was hoping for the same positive experience with “The Burgess Boys”. I wasn’t disappointed. Strout is excellent at creating down to earth relatable characters and Bob and Jim Burgess and their sister Sue are not exceptions. Bobby is an appeals lawyer handling cases outside the courtroom. Jim is a high profile lawyer who won fame in his early career by successfully defending an infamous client. Sue is a single mother of a troubled son. What they all three have in common is a childhood with a central tragedy. When Sue’s son Zachary commits a crime all three siblings rally around Sue and him. In the process they begin to slowly unravel their pasts and come to terms with them. They re-examine their marriages. They come to hard conclusions and make difficult decisions. Mostly they reacquaint themselves with the people they’ve become as adults and begin to shed childhood assumptions about their place in the family and how that impacts them as adults. Best of all they begin to see and relate to one another as the adults they currently are. This is painful at times. It’s also freeing. They free one another of projections and in the process free themselves. Strout has a way of looking directly at unpleasant emotions and situations. Her depictions of New England and its people are as heartwarming as they are raw. Her characters are messy. They dig at themselves and at one another but in the end they often come away with truths and a way to resurrect themselves. In “The Burgess Boys: no soldier is left on the battlefield though some come away bleeding a bit. This review is based on an e-galley provided by the publisher. (This disclaimer is given as required by the FTC.)

  26. 5 out of 5

    aPriL does feral sometimes

    This is a subtle and layered story about a middle-class dysfunctional family. Yes, I know. Another one. Maybe you've had your fill of novels about how American families disintegrate for the year, but I must insist you read this one if you are a literary reader. It's different. I promise. I admit to a certain strong cynicism I beat down within myself whenever picking up a suburban green lawn, 2.3 kid, two-car mid-life sandwich family story or a book which turns out to be a small-town whine about g This is a subtle and layered story about a middle-class dysfunctional family. Yes, I know. Another one. Maybe you've had your fill of novels about how American families disintegrate for the year, but I must insist you read this one if you are a literary reader. It's different. I promise. I admit to a certain strong cynicism I beat down within myself whenever picking up a suburban green lawn, 2.3 kid, two-car mid-life sandwich family story or a book which turns out to be a small-town whine about growing up restrained by conservative values while protected by said same. I have a smaller sneer in my heart when the story takes place in middle-class city neighborhoods, mostly due to more shared values between myself and the characters - or at least, some shared life experiences. However, I grew up poor; thus, the sneer. I got educated; thus, the love of literature reads, whatever the environment. I prefer mysteries, science fiction, horror and emotional tragedy reads, with strong writing components developed around big ideas (and small dramas), which is how literary reads have found their way onto my reading lists. Subtle works for me only if the story reveals a dreadful horror hidden within, usually. I find most cozies a huge bore, unless well-written and imbued with clever slyness. The Romance genre is dead to me. Given my preferences, I almost gave up on this because it seemed like normal, cozy-inspired, family drama. If it had been longer, I would have quit. Fortunately for me, it was short. It slowly dawned on me how smart it was, and eventually there was a moment when I stood up stunned by the depth of the author's understanding of how people live. I don't really want to say what the plot is about because I experienced this novel the way I live through the daily opening of a flower in a garden. Each day reveals more and more delight. I listened to it it the first time I 'read' it as a library audiobook. It was so good, I bought the ebook. What is a good life if you are a human being in an open culture? Is it accomplished through emphasizing individuality or community? Do you want comforting (or smothering) conformity with rigidly defined roles or a 'Live Free or Die' environment (thank you New Hampshire)? Are people REALLY free to choose who they are, whatever 'free' society they must live in? Is there an achievable balance possible in bringing individuals together for a successful community, whether it be familial, tribal or governmental? The author presents us with the cultural choices of the USA vs. Somalia vs. Sweden during the progress of the book, but it's really a red herring conversation. I think what Strout is actually demonstrating in her novel is that we are defined by our perceptions, whatever the cultural framework or individual freedoms with which we've been theoretically graced. Free will is only of use insofar as you understand the imposed and invisible boundaries of society and history. Perhaps the worst thing we do is manipulating the role we choose for others to live. I loved this book and I consider it a masterful work, if not a masterpiece. It has so many levels of understanding and wisdom an expert critic could fill the pages of a literary magazine with its ideas and characters. I wish I could give it that expertise, but I'll simply witness to interested readers on how much I enjoyed reading it. While the insightful exploration of family dynamics reminded me of a Thornton Wilder play, the real clue to the author's intention, I think, was the introduction of the pig's head. What else could that be but a hint of some kind of reference to The Lord of the Flies by William Golding? Having finished The Burgess Boys, I feel confirmed in my suspicion. Even better, I think the author added to the conversation that that allegorical story of Golding started. Why do many societies devolve into dictatorships and brutality? In Somalia, religion was the gateway to societal collapse. In the USA, the hierarchical order of religion, family or culture is more benign, but the light control nonetheless is felt as a threat to personal liberty, so we've (I'm an American) swung the other way - so much that we often appear to be under the dictatorship and cruelty of individualism. And Sweden? There have been many articles touting Sweden as the perfect society, with extreme taxation enabling a happy people without any worries. Really? Other articles have exposed that eliminating existential concerns about housing, education and health has not eliminated the dark side of human nature. It appears we carry along baggage impossible to lose. Real criminality may be in ALL manipulation of other people that benefits yourself alone, at the expense of the others. Criminal codes of government, religion or tribe can only cover the visible physical damage, but true indecency is the emotional devastation of secrets and lies hiding your own culpability. Yet, despite every designed effort and institution that humanity has developed to control our baser natures, those aspects of ourselves which harm others, the dark side of humanity surfaces again and again. It's obvious to me that people have reinvented and renamed our fragmented but inseparable parts we call our personalities over and over, which actually reflects what scientists are discovering about our brains, into concise and excisable sections which only exist conceptually. I think what we call our 'dark side' is not a SIDE at all, but in reality thoroughly incorporated in the warp and weft of who we are. Does that mean we submit to the horrors of Lord of the Flies? I think Strout is picking up the conversation where Golding abandoned it. Among the huge inventory of evolved genetic tools we have inherited from our ancestors, whether we be Americans, Somalis or Swedes, we have the capability of forgiveness. It is very likely the greatest bits of DNA that people possess to ensure our survival living with each other.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Connie

    Elizabeth Strout has yet again shown why she is such an accomplished writer, though I think she is really a grand "storyteller". The Burgess Boys gives us some sad and unlikable characters and pulls us into their story. For better or worse, we want to see how they turn out. Her stories aren't full of suspense, twist and turns, hot romance or action packed. They are the stories of real people living real lives. The boys are as different as night and day, and the memories and roles that have shap Elizabeth Strout has yet again shown why she is such an accomplished writer, though I think she is really a grand "storyteller". The Burgess Boys gives us some sad and unlikable characters and pulls us into their story. For better or worse, we want to see how they turn out. Her stories aren't full of suspense, twist and turns, hot romance or action packed. They are the stories of real people living real lives. The boys are as different as night and day, and the memories and roles that have shaped their lives come into question when a new crisis arises in the family. This is a story about how we become the people we are, how we view ourselves, how we are influenced by surroundings and circumstance, and how we are able to change...maybe. It is a story of prejudice and misunderstanding....both in a family and in the world. It is a story of forgiveness and of letting go and moving forward.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    3-1/2 Stars The Burgess Boys revolves around the lives of 3 siblings and their families. Elizabeth Strout is a talented writer and she gives her characters such life that you can feel it coming off the pages. This is only my second book of hers I’ve read but I felt that in her other book as well (My Name is Lucy Barton). However, The Burgess Boys did not have as strong of an impact on me. The storyline just didn’t grab a hold of me as much and it seemed a little anticlimactic. I took some stars a 3-1/2 Stars The Burgess Boys revolves around the lives of 3 siblings and their families. Elizabeth Strout is a talented writer and she gives her characters such life that you can feel it coming off the pages. This is only my second book of hers I’ve read but I felt that in her other book as well (My Name is Lucy Barton). However, The Burgess Boys did not have as strong of an impact on me. The storyline just didn’t grab a hold of me as much and it seemed a little anticlimactic. I took some stars away for those reasons but I look forward to reading more of Strout’s work.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This book is a hard one for me to review, and I am waffling between three and four stars. Here's the problem: I hate all the characters in this book. But I think the author intends for all of them to be equally flawed and unlikable, it helps to tell the story, but just the same, there was not a single character I was rooting for or hoping they would succeed and grow. The characters that would be most likely to receive that kind of connection were on the periphery - Zach, the troubled child who e This book is a hard one for me to review, and I am waffling between three and four stars. Here's the problem: I hate all the characters in this book. But I think the author intends for all of them to be equally flawed and unlikable, it helps to tell the story, but just the same, there was not a single character I was rooting for or hoping they would succeed and grow. The characters that would be most likely to receive that kind of connection were on the periphery - Zach, the troubled child who ends up in legal trouble over his head; the Somalian refugees trying to live in an accidentally/traditionally racist community. Strout does capture the longterm impact of a small, closely-knit community and what that means for outsiders. She demonstrates the struggle to maintain identity when the population that was born there is aging and new people are coming in. I just would have rather heard the refugees story than the Burgess boys. The Burgess boys were a contrast of ego and doubt, dominance and weakness, secretive and giving. I found them both completely exhausting as human beings. Cassandra Campbell did the audio performance of the book, and I can't really judge her Maine accents because I'm not sure I've ever heard one, although they sounded more southern than northern to me. The author herself states that it is impossible to fake a Maine accent. Cassandra is a reliable reader with a wide range of voice inflections and good pacing, and I find her easy to listen to.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    Jim, the oldest sibling, is a successful corporate attorney in New York City. Younger brother Bob, or Bobby, is also an attorney in New York City, but “only” a legal aid attorney. Jim, happily married with almost-grown children, has basked in the success of one of his earliest cases for most of his career, he’s the one who people turn to for advice, the one who has it together, the one with the wife and kids. The Happy Family. Bob is still haunted by the death of their father when they were youn Jim, the oldest sibling, is a successful corporate attorney in New York City. Younger brother Bob, or Bobby, is also an attorney in New York City, but “only” a legal aid attorney. Jim, happily married with almost-grown children, has basked in the success of one of his earliest cases for most of his career, he’s the one who people turn to for advice, the one who has it together, the one with the wife and kids. The Happy Family. Bob is still haunted by the death of their father when they were young, and taunted by big brother Jim for not having everything together. Susan, Susie, is the only girl, and Bobby’s twin. She has remained in their home town, where Jim is known and publicly worshipped, including by Susan. Susan' husband has left her and her son, Zach, who spends most of his time in his room, alone, has seemingly little interaction with her – or anyone. The worlds of the three siblings are far apart, each to their own until one phone call from Susan to her brothers brings them both home to the world of their childhood. The shadows that inhabited their lives as children begin to wear down their carefully built walls. Elizabeth Strout ‘s storytelling is exceptional, the characters she creates are vivid and real, you feel their heartache and pain, their joys and their frustrations. You sense the dynamics of childhood in each conversation between them, and see how the childhood adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” may sometimes be far from the truth.

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