Friday, March 8, 2013

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

What Elizabeth Strout does well is fill her books with fully realized, interesting, yet flawed characters. That’s my nice way of saying she writes one hell of an unlikable unsympathetic character. Just as Olive Kitteridge remains so vivid several years after first reading it, The Burgess Boys will resonate as well.

Olive Kitteridge
The Burgess family meets tragedy early in life when Bobby, just a toddler playing in the front seat of the family car, accidently backs over and kills his father. Yeah, from that point on you’re going to be the odd man out. But Bobby goes to law school just as his older brother Jim does, although Bobby will never excel the way Jim has in life, and Jim reminds him of that fact often. While the brothers move to New York, their sister Susan stays behind in Maine, marries, has a son, and divorces. Their lives rattle on. 

The Burgess Boys

Jim becomes somewhat of a celebrity lawyer with political aspirations, Jim’s career and marriage have not really panned out, and Susan finds that her little hometown is being overrun by “Somalian” refugees, whom she has no real understanding or sympathy for. It annoys her that they don’t try to fit in more. It is no real surprise when her now teenage son Zach throws a pig’s head through the window of a mosque during a Ramadan prayer service.

The Burgess family is pretty confident that this crime, which they consider to be a joke gone bad, a misdemeanor at best, will blow over. It isn’t until the prosecutor wants to charge Zach with a hate crime that they realize the severity of what’s happening, and then…Zach disappears.

Elizabeth Strout
The Burgess Boys will certainly be compared to Olive Kitteridge, and that’s understandable to some extent, but they really are two drastically different books, each of which stands on its own. 

1 comment:

  1. Eager to read this. "Olive Kitteridge" is one of my favorite books.