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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When people talk about depth of character, this is what they mean.
This is an immensely touching story about fifty-something siblings and how they negotiate the tensions between them. The story is set both in Shirley Falls, Maine as well as New York. The contrast between how a big city absorbs its immigrants and its effect on small-town America couldn't be more striking. In Shirley Falls, the town is struggling to adjust to its growing...
Published 13 months ago by Sue Kichenside

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3.0 out of 5 stars The Burgess Boys
Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for her third novel, "Olive Kitteridge". My first reading of Strout was of this, her fourth novel, "The Burgess Boys" (2013).

Set in New York City and in a small fictitious town, Shirley Falls, Maine, much of the book revolves around family relationships and tensions. The "Burgess Boys", Jim and Bob, are both in...
Published 1 month ago by Robin Friedman


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When people talk about depth of character, this is what they mean., 19 Jun 2013
By 
Sue Kichenside - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Hardcover)
This is an immensely touching story about fifty-something siblings and how they negotiate the tensions between them. The story is set both in Shirley Falls, Maine as well as New York. The contrast between how a big city absorbs its immigrants and its effect on small-town America couldn't be more striking. In Shirley Falls, the town is struggling to adjust to its growing Somali community, equally the Somalis themselves are struggling with the idea of assimilation. When an apparent hate-crime occurs, the repercussions for the town and for the Burgess family become unmanageable.

I can't pay Ms Strout more of a compliment when I say we are in Anne Tyler country here. The characterisation throughout this book is exceptional and I feel the people in this story will stay with me for a long time (which with my poor memory is really saying something!). The small-town setting is also reminiscent of Anne Tyler's tales - stories that may appear to be small in scope but which in fact describe a whole world of humanity. This is heartfelt writing of the first order. Elizabeth Strout is a new writer to me and I shall certainly be seeking out her previous work, so fine is this novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooray - an excellent new author!, 23 Oct 2013
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Hardcover)
Unanimously enjoyed by my women's book group (a rare event), and we decided to read Olive Kitteridge next. It also provoked a lengthy discussion as both characters and plot are so well developed - and the context of Maine and New York added to the interest. We'd heard Elizabeth Strout could be 'the next Anne Tyler', but in our view she's even better.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The burgess boys, 31 May 2013
By 
Barry "Barry J O'Gorman" (Dublin, Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Kindle Edition)
Just finished listening to `The Burgess Boys'. Excellent story of two brother and their sister - I guess calling the book `the Burgess brothers and their sister' was too much hard work.

The book is set in New York and Maine and concerns two brothers living in New York and their sister living in Maine. The brothers are both lawyers - Jim (the elder) a successful corporate lawyer, Bob, the other operating at the other end of the scale. And their sister, Susan (Bob's twin) lives with her son Zach in a small town, Shirley Falls, in Maine, where they all grew up.

Zach gets in trouble and his uncles `ride into town' to sort out the problems. Well, first Bob arrives and then Jim, as the reinforcement. In fact Jim seeks to control the process and directs the actions to be taken by both Bob and Susan.

From early on it is apparent that we are going to learn about the siblings background, their early childhoods, their family upbringing, their rivalries and something that happened when they were quite young. We also see their adult lives, their failed or challenged marriages and how they have managed or struggled to stay in touch as their careers, relocation and their new family lives have separated them.

We have some excellent insights into Jim's life - married to Helen (who is independently wealthy), a very successful lawyer with many of the trappings of success, but struggling with some of the compromise and required socialising with other partners in the law firm. The golf trip is nicely juxtapositioned with the breaking crisis for Zach and his mother. We also see how Jim struggles to readjust when reimmersed in Shirley Falls,.

On the face of it Jim and Helen have an excellent relationship - but there are elements of `Gatsby' about some parts of their lives. There appears to be a level of boredom, lack of direction or meaning. Some of this comes across clearly in descriptions of Helen's activities - one of the `ladies who do lunch' in New York.

We also see how Bob struggles and we meet his ex-wife and some other friends. We learn more about Bob in seeing how he inter relates with Jim and Helen, his neighbours, his sister and various other characters. During the course of the Zach issue Bob meets up with some old friends in Shirley Falls and generally rebuilds his relationship with his sister. His relationship with Jim - as the younger, less successful brother, develops as Jim's world unfolds.

Susan is the mother who is struggling to bring up Zach on her own - and experiences real self-doubt/ guilt when Zach gets in trouble. She is less worldly-wise - at least on first meeting her - than her brothers and is inclined to imagine the worst and be panicked into action.

The interaction between the two brothers and their sister is intriguing and well-developed throughout the novel by Strout.. And there are a number of surprises for the reader which will hold your attention. I found the book fascinating as an examination of relationships between siblings - Zach's issues just provide an opportunity and a reason for more focused interaction between the three of them in later adult life. In some respects it reminds of situations we all find ourselves in when travelling to a funeral and spending longer together than planned.

As someone with a number of siblings I found the book interesting in that it stimulated some thinking/ reflection re sibling relationships - and how they may develop or be constrained in adult life, as additional people e.g. spouses, become involved in our lives, as people relocate, as careers develop differently, as children arrive. But Elizabeth Strout, the author, reminds us clearly of the importance of those initial relationships based on childhood and how these can survive many of the challenges over the years. The underlying message is blood relationships are critical and should last the test of time.

I would have little hesitation in recommending the book to friends. Good character development and interaction and plenty of material on which to reflect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incarcerated in the wrong life, 20 July 2013
By 
Antenna (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Hardcover)
Brothers Jim and Bob Burgess escape the provincial world of Shirley Falls, Maine for employment as New York lawyers. In contrast to the ambitious high-flyer Jim, Bob is "a nice guy" but portrayed as a bit of a failure (despite being a qualified lawyer), whose borderline alcoholism may have its roots in his early childhood, when he played a part in the tragic event that blighted his family. When the brothers' dysfunctional nephew commits a criminal act against the Somali immigrants who have begun to arouse the suspicious resentment of the conservative white community of Shirley Falls, Jim and Bob are forced to revisit the town, and old memories.

The strongest aspect for me is the core of the book, the portrayal of the complex relationship between the two brothers, and there are some wry, realistic dialogues. On the other hand, my enthusiasm was eroded from the outset by the to my mind unnecessary device of using a prologue to provide a narrator's advance summary of some of the key facts of the book (more than I have above), with the implication that the following chapters are her "story of the Burgess kids", possibly including a degree of speculation since, "Nobody ever knows anyone".

The story tends to lack dramatic tension, since opportunities to develop or explore situations are frequently missed. Yet plots are probably less important to Elizabeth Strout than people's thoughts and behaviour. Although it is probably meant to be a kind of "stream of consciousness", the many long, rambling sentences with banal word repetition grated on me. This may be a cultural thing - a British reader's criticism of a style that is accepted as the norm in modern American writing. Also, the continual switching between at least six points of view make the story often seem unfocused.

So, I swung between thinking this either "in the mould of Anne Tyler" or "soft-centred women's magazine material". My doubts were allayed in Book 4 which, with an increase in pace and improvement in the quality of the writing, brings the threads together for the unpredictable ending which proves satisfying for those who like to be left with a little room to imagine what they wish.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Left me wanting more !, 19 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Hardcover)
Not the first book I've read by this author and certainly not the last. Real credible family conflicts and resolutions. The reader connects with the characters even when or perhaps especially when, with their weaknesses, their flaws on display, they are at their most human. Really good, honest writing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars The Burgess Boys, 9 Jun 2014
By 
Robin Friedman (Washington, D.C. United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Hardcover)
Elizabeth Strout won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for her third novel, "Olive Kitteridge". My first reading of Strout was of this, her fourth novel, "The Burgess Boys" (2013).

Set in New York City and in a small fictitious town, Shirley Falls, Maine, much of the book revolves around family relationships and tensions. The "Burgess Boys", Jim and Bob, are both in their 50s and both are lawyers living in New York City. Jim, four years older than his brother, is Harvard-educated, aggressive and charismatic. He is married to the independently wealthy Helen and the couple have three children in college. Jim achieved fame by his success in securing an acquittal for his client in a notorious, highly publicized criminal case and went on to do white-collar defense criminal defense work for a large firm. His brother, Bob, drinks and smokes heavily. He is divorced, lives alone, and works as an appellate lawyer for Legal Aid. Bob has a twin sister, Susan, in Shirley Falls whose husband left her long before the story begins. Susan's son, a young adult, Zach, lives with her.

The novel pivots on an incident in which during Ramadan young Zach as a prank throws a bloody pig's head in a mosque maintained by Somali immigrants to the United States. There are tensions in Shirley Falls between the Somali people and the largely white and aging community. Zach is charged under State law with a misdemeanor, while the U.S. Attorney is investigating charging Zach with a much more serious civil rights violation and hate crime. In their different ways, Jim and Bob come to the assistance of their sister and their nephew in the town in which they had grown up and left behind many years earlier.

The relations between the two brothers and their sister turn on an event that had occurred with the twins were 4 and Jim 8. The father had left the three kids in the car parked on a hill and was killed in a freak accident when the car went out of brake and rolled down. Bob was in the front seat and apparently had been playing with the brakes. He and the family carry around with them the history that as a small boy Bob had caused the accident resulting in his father's death, leaving the mother alone to raise three children.

The book is at its best in setting out the family dynamics between Jim and Bob, the first competent and brilliant the second dumped-on. Strout also shows well how incidents from the past remain in life to haunt and control individuals and families. This part of the book is eloquently and thoughtfully done. Many readers will be moved to reflect on pivotal events from the past that have influenced their own lives in ways that might have been otherwise. Besides this important part of the novel, Strout writes beautifully in places, with an eye for telling details about life both in New York and in a small New England town.

I found more to dislike than to like in this novel. The book loses direction when it changes from a story of two brothers and a sister dealing with a long buried event from their past and becomes instead a problem novel. Strout loses focus on Jim, Bob, and Susan as persons to talk about issues. The characters quickly become stereotyped and uninteresting. Rather than focusing on individual lives, the book talks about "issues" -- the problem facing baby-boomers when their dreams remain unrealized, living with an "empty nest", the difficulty many Americans face in accepting immigrants and with continued religious and racial distrust, falling out of love, sexual wandering and sexual harassment, the differences between city life and small town life, and many more. The book discusses "issues", not primarily persons. The scenes have the feel of contrivance with the characters having little intrinsic interest beyond vehicles for discussion of other things.

The book also is weakened by too many characters and too many rather facile changes of perspective. It becomes slow, confusing, and overly-broad in scope. Too many of the themes have little to do with the family dynamics that seem to be at the center of the story.

While it offers fine writing and a considerable degree of insight, the book is overly topical in its focus. It is a more literate version of a television show, perhaps. The novel is overly adapted for book group use (questions for discussion are included) with the many issues it holds out for discussion and its too extensive editorializing about various social issues in the contemporary United States.

With recognition of its good qualities, I found myself thoroughly disliking this novel on balance. I did not find it a pleasure to read. The contrivances of the story ultimately worked against serious personal reflection.

Robin Friedman
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4.0 out of 5 stars Stayed up late, 9 Jun 2014
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This review is from: The Burgess Boys (Kindle Edition)
A really gripping and totally believable story which so engaged me I,am writing this at half past one in the morning! Excellent. Simply excellent. Read it.
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3.0 out of 5 stars lack of story, 15 May 2014
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Although I enjoyed the writing, the book was very long getting tot he trial with not enough else happening. The ending was better when things speeded up a bit.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good read if you like " family "stories, 7 May 2014
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I warmed to Bob's character and was keen to read what happened next.
Found the background on the immigrants was well researched and woven into the story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 9 Oct 2013
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A fascinating story about a dysfunctional family. Elizabeth Strout brings these characters to life, each one with their own unique story to tell. Each character could easily be someone you know in your own life, showing the trials and tribulation that life can encroach on all of us. I couldn't put the book down from beginning to end I found the story of the characters enthralling and it left me wanting more.
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The Burgess Boys
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (Hardcover - 9 May 2013)
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