Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
(Random House, 2013)
Format: Audio CDs via library (narrated by Cassandra Campbell)

From Goodreads: "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."

Oh, those Burgess boys. Love to like one, love to dislike the other, and love to love the book containing them both. There's so much here, from the superbly-observant Strout, that will turn Bob and Jim and Susan into people you've known forever, those notable siblings from your small town whose lives you've observed since they were kids and whose tragedies and triumphs you've seen up close. And there are all the others, too, the refugee and the minister and the ex-wife and the cop - everyone a part of this community, whether they'd like to be or not, whether they've fled Shirley Falls or not. I just can't get over how intimately Strout draws her characters. I can't explain why I'd want to root for Jim even when he's being a blowhard, or why the way hard, cold Susan interacts with her dog breaks my heart. And Bob. Good old Bob, who could have led so much bigger a life, but then again, has led a life despite his tragedy, and would we want him to have ended up more like Jim, anyway? No, we wouldn't. 

I'm not explaining myself well because: emotions. They defy words sometimes. 

Campbell's narration was tides rolling over me, calm and strong and surging through the story. Her accents - even, though my ear is unfamiliar, the apparently tough Maine one! - were intent and right, and she perfectly captured Strout's mood of the near-present past tense.


  1. I haven't tried Strout but I'm anxious to - this book sounds wonderful!

  2. As big a fan of her Olive Kitteridge as I am, I was more entranced by this one. Do check it out!