Daily Archives: March 2, 2018

‘The Burgess Boys’ by Elizabeth Strout


2013, 326 p.

The ‘Burgess Boys’ are both lawyers: Jim a hot-shot defence lawyer and Bob, an easy-going, rather aimless legal-aid lawyer, both living in New York.  They are called home by their sister Susan, who needs their legal help after her rather gormless son Zach throws a pigs-head into a mosque, triggering outrage over the hate crime. The family had grown up in the small town of Shirley Falls, Maine but the Burgess Boys had both escaped as soon as they could, leaving Susan a rather embittered, passive single mother after her marriage had broken up. As the title suggests, the family was about The Boys, not her. Shirley Falls had received a large number of Somali immigrants, which had caused tension in the town, which was whipped up further by Zach’s action.

Beside the pig’s head, this is a story of adult siblings who have drifted apart after their parents died. Their father had died while they were young, as a result of a car accident for which Bob felt responsible, and there is a lot of unspoken business between them.

I’ve read quite a bit of Elizabeth Strout in recent years, and I’m starting to wonder if I’ve read too much, because my satisfaction seems to decrease with every book after the brilliant Olive Kitteridge, which I loved. There was too much time spent inside the heads of these rather unattractive people, and the Unitarian minister was so saccharine that I felt ill (AND I’m a Unitarian myself!)  The significance of the  disparity between New York and Maine tended to pass me by, and it felt as if there were just too many issues bubbling away in the pot here.

So, along with writers like Ann Tyler and Sue Miller, whom I’ve enjoyed a great deal in their early books but then felt jaded towards,  I think I need a bit of a rest from Elizabeth Strout.  I’ll come back to her later.

Sourced from: CAE Book Groups

Read because: CAE book group selection (although I missed the meeting unfortunately)

My rating: 7/10