Reviews for Burgess Boys

Booklist Reviews 2013 January #1
Pulitzer Prize-winning Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2008) delivers a tightly woven yet seemingly languorous portrayal of a family in longtime disarray. Brothers Jim and Bob Burgess, and sister Susan, are mired in a childhood trauma: when he was four, Bob unwittingly released the parking brake on the family car, which ran over their father and killed him. Originally from small Shirley Falls, Maine, the Burgess brothers have long since fled to vastly disparate lives as New York City attorneys. Egoistic Jim is a famous big shot with a corporate firm. Self-effacing Bob leads a more low-profile career with Legal Aid. High-strung Susan calls them home to fix a family crisis: her son stands accused of a possible hate crime against the small town's improbable Somali population. The siblings' varying responses to the crisis illuminate their sheer differences while also recalling their shared upbringing, forcing them finally to deal with their generally unmentioned, murky family history. Strout's tremendous talent at creating a compelling interest in what seems on the surface to be the barest of actions gives her latest work an almost meditative state, in which the fabric of family, loyalty, and difficult choices is revealed in layer after artful layer. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is the first novel from Strout since her Pulitzer Prize-winning, runaway best-seller, Olive Kitteridge, and anticipation will be high. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2013 April
Strout returns with a tale of brothers bound by distrust

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Strout is known for the remarkable empathy she shows her characters and for her tough yet truthful depiction of intimate relationships. Her moving new novel, The Burgess Boys, examines how patterns established in childhood can impact the choices we make as adults. When the three Burgesses, who lost their father in a freak accident, are called together over a crisis decades later, they are forced to forge a new set of family dynamics. 

Jim and Bob, the Burgess brothers, may have only moved from Maine to New York, but emotionally, they are far away from the little town of Shirley Falls where they grew up. Jim is a highly visible corporate lawyer, whose cases have brought him fame and some notoriety. His life with his wife Helen in a Park Slope brownstone seems just about perfect, even as they adjust to an empty nest. Younger brother Bob prefers a quieter life as a Legal Aid attorney and idolizes Jim, though he finds some of his career choices distasteful. Neither man maintains anything but the most casual connection with their hometown, and when Bob’s resentful twin, Susan, calls from Maine after her son Zach is charged with a hate crime, their lives are turned upside down. Zach, an isolated and lonely teenager, was caught throwing a pig’s head into the local mosque, and the brothers arrive back in Shirley Falls to handle his case. When the siblings are together once again, long-buried secrets about their father’s accidental death are uncovered and family loyalties and ties are tested.

This is familiar territory for Strout, whose previous books (Amy and Isabelle, Olive Kitteridge) were also set in Maine [Fri Aug 29 06:01:54 2014] Wide character in print at E:\websites\aquabrowser\IMCPL\app\site\ line 249. and featured families strained to their breaking point. Strout casts a wider net in The Burgess Boys, examining how the recent influx of Somalis to Shirley Falls has changed the fabric of the New England town. Her characters navigate the rich urban landscapes of Manhattan and gentrified Park Slope, which stand in stark contrast to the insularity of Shirley Falls. Strout based part of the story on an actual case, and her expertise as a lawyer offers much fruitful detail on the building of a legal case against Zach.

The Burgess Boys is an ambitious novel that weaves an intricate family drama shot through with the threads of race and class, though it occasionally suffers from a lack of focus—Zach’s story is sometimes overshadowed by the squabbling between the siblings and their spouses as they scramble to uncover the unsolvable mystery of their childhood. Nevertheless, Strout excels in constructing an intricate but believable web of family drama, and her ear for how siblings, husbands and wives really communicate makes for a deeply powerful story.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

BookPage Reviews 2014 April
New paperback releases for reading groups

Set in New York City during the Prohibition era, Suzanne Rindell’s The Other Typist is a captivating mystery with an unassuming heroine at its heart. Rose Baker—respectable, conscientious and more than a little mousy—works as a typist for the New York City police, documenting spine-tingling criminal confessions. The sensational stories she’s exposed to at work add spice to her somewhat mundane life. When a typist named Odalie is hired, Rose finds herself fascinated by her new co-worker. Odalie is flirtatious, beautiful and brazen, and she leads the life of a flapper, frequenting speakeasies and dressing in the latest styles. Rose becomes wrapped up in Odalie’s world, but she’s plagued by doubts about her new friend’s intentions. She soon discovers that Odalie is not at all who she seems to be. This richly detailed, skillfully constructed mystery offers a fascinating look at life in 1920s New York. Rindell’s depiction of the city is convincing, and her gift for dialogue adds zest to the proceedings. Fans of historical fiction and suspense will love this debut.

Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Elizabeth Strout is back with another compelling family drama. The Burgess Boys is the story of Jim and Bob Burgess, brothers who, along with their sister, Susan, experienced a traumatic accident when they were kids—a mishap on the part of Bob that led to the death of their father. Although they’ve both become successful New York attorneys, the brothers aren’t close. Arrogant, self-centered Jim is a heavyweight at a corporate law firm, while modest, down-to-earth Bob works with Legal Aid. When Susan summons them home to Maine to help her son, who has been charged with a hate crime, the brothers’ contrasting reactions reveal just how different they really are. The fresh family crisis also dredges up unpleasant memories—issues from the past that they’re forced to come to terms with. Strout’s spot-on depictions of sibling friction are sure to strike a chord with her many fans. Her deep understanding of human motivations and psychology lend authenticity to this unforgettable family tale.

Hannah Kent’s chilling debut novel, Burial Rites, is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdøttir, a maid accused of murder who was the last defendant in Iceland to face the death penalty. The year is 1829, and Agnes is being held at a remote farm in lieu of a prison until the time of her execution. Jón Jónsson, owner of the farm and a local official, is responsible for Agnes, and her presence creates a definite sense of unease among his family. Agnes asks for a priest, and it’s through her conversations with him that parts of her story unfold. Agnes has been accused of the murder of her employer and his friend, but in spite of that fact, she earns the audience’s compassion. Her tale is perfectly matched by its grim Scandanavian setting. Kent deftly weaves historical fact into this hypnotic work of fiction. It’s an unsettling portrait of a woman whose motives and actions are darkly fascinating.

Copyright 2012 BookPage Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 March #2
Two squabbling brothers confront their demons, their crumbling love lives and a hate crime case that thrusts them back to their Maine roots. The titular boys of this follow-up to Strout's Pulitzer-winning 2008 short story collection, Olive Kitteridge, are Jim and Bob Burgess, who are similar on the surface--lawyers, New Yorkers--but polar opposites emotionally. Jim is a high-wattage trial attorney who's quick with a cruel rejoinder designed to put people in their place, while Bob is a divorc who works for Legal Aid and can't shake the guilt of killing his dad in a freak accident as a child. The two snap into action when their sister's son in their native Maine is apprehended for throwing a pig's head into a mosque. The scenario gives Strout an opportunity to explore the culture of the Somalis who have immigrated to the state in recent years--a handful of scenes are told from the perspective of a Somali cafe owner, baffled by American arrogance, racism and cruelty. But this is mainly a carefully manicured study of domestic (American and household) dysfunction with some rote messages about the impermanence of power and the goodness that resides in hard-luck souls--it gives nothing away to say that Jim comes to a personal reckoning and that Bob isn't quite the doormat he's long been thought to be. Speeding the plot turns along are Jim's wife, Helen, an old-money repository of white guilt, and Jim and Bob's sister, Susan, a hardscrabble repository of parental anxiety. Strout's writing is undeniably graceful and observant: She expertly captures the frenetic pace of New York and relative sluggishness of Maine. But her character arrangements often feel contrived, archetypal and predestined; Jim's in particular becomes a clichd symbol of an overinflated ego. A skilled but lackluster novel that dutifully ticks off the boxes of family strife, infidelity and ripped-from-the-headlines issues. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 December #1

As in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteredge, Strout promises to make everyday small-town life luminous and absorbing. Brothers who have fled upstate Shirley Falls for New York City return when their sister needs help with her troubled teenage son.

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Library Journal Reviews 2013 April #2

The Burgess siblings are in disarray. Decades earlier, the "boys," Jim and Bob, fled their childhood home of Shirley Falls, ME, to practice law in New York City. Jim is a flashy uptown defense attorney who once won a high-profile celebrity murder case. His meek younger brother, Bob, the ultimate agent of conciliation, is a Legal Aid lawyer. When Bob's twin sister, Susan, calls from Shirley Falls to say her odd teenage son, Zachary, has thrown a pig's head into the mosque of the community's Somali population, an unspeakably offensive violation of the Muslim faith, the brothers scramble to throw down legal cover. Events spin out of control, Zachary's crime goes national, tensions rise, and charges against the boy escalate. Meanwhile, the abrasive relationship among Jim, Bob, and Susan erodes as the shattering moment of their childhood--the death of their father, which was blamed on four-year-old Bob--bubbles to the surface. VERDICT Pulitzer Prize-winner Strout (Olive Kitteridge) takes the reader on a surprising journey of combative filial love and the healing powers of the truth. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/12.]--Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI

[Page 77]. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 February #1

Strout's follow-up to her 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Olive Kitteridge links a trio of middle-aged siblings with a group of Somali immigrants in a familiar story about isolation within families and communities. The Burgesses have troubles both public and secret: sour, divorced Susan, who stayed in the family's hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, with her teenage son Zachary; big-hearted Bob, who feels guilty about their father's fatal car accident; and celebrity defense lawyer Jim, who moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. When Zachary hurls a bloody pig's head into a Somali mosque during Ramadan, fragile connections between siblings, the Somalis, and other Shirley Falls residents are tested. Jim's bullish meddling into Zach's trial hurts rather than helps, and Susan's inability to act without her brothers' advice cements her role as the weakest link (and least interesting character). Finally, when Jim's neurotic wife, Helen, witnesses the depth of her husband's indifference and Bob's ex-wife, Pam, finds the security of her new life in Manhattan tested by nostalgia for Shirley Falls, Zach's fate--and that of the Somalis--becomes an unfortunate afterthought. Strout excels in constructing an intricate web of circuitous family drama, which makes for a powerful story, but the familiarity of the novel's questions and a miraculously disentangled denouement drain the story of depth. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Apr.)

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