Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Burgess Boys

Strout, Elizabeth. The Burgess Boys. New York: Random House, 2013. Print.
image from:

Plot summary (from the inside cover)
"Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim & 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
My book club picked this book to read. We'd read Strout's Olive Kitteridge, so I was excited to read another story by the same author. 

This is the story of siblings Jim, Bob & Susan Burgess. I wrote my thoughts, and then realized that if you read this blog, you might not have a clear idea of what the book is about, so I included the inside cover description. I'm always afraid to give too much away when I'm writing about a book. Usually my "My Thoughts" section is a personal reaction to what I've read or interesting revelations I saw through the characters. I seem to always learn something from reading a book, whether I liked the story or not. I liked this story.

Bob & Susan are twins. Jim is the older, protective brother. "Your Uncle Jim will take care of you. That's what he does" (Strout 158). Each sibling has a story--a past that has created their present. However, when one sibling confesses that the remembered past is not accurate, each of their lives shift. This is a huge tectonic shift! One truth can change a person.

Strout creates three dimensional characters in a mostly believable story about multiple generations of a family.  What seems like a "slice of life" story actually carries through years. Readers can relate to this story because we all have some degree of dysfunction in our families.  We might not share the same story, but we can relate to the circumstances.

The sub-story that brings the siblings together is that of the awkward teenager Zach . He has done a bone-head act against the Somali community that now lives in his hometown. This act now has him facing federal charges.  Big brother and lawyer Jim will take care of this. He thinks.

I kept thinking about the research Strout must have done to write this story. Who just knows that the Somali people didn't have a written language until 1972 (Strout 130)? There are many layers to the story that would require some research (Somali, parasites, expressions). There was a lot going on in this story (which is divided into four books).  There are several characters that seem minor, but play a pivotal role in the narrative. Nothing is mentioned in the plot summary of Pam, Helen or Steve--the people who married into the Burgess Family. I marked several things the characters did and said. I felt like I visited Shirley Falls, Maine.

I liked the way the story unfolds. It is not predictable. Life isn't. Thanks to Elizabeth Strout for another enjoyable story.

No comments: