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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 July 2013
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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on 1 September 2016
Jim and Bob Burgess have left Maine as adults and made their way in the legal profession in New York, Jim being much more successful than Bob. They learn, in their 50s that their sister in Maine, who is a lone parent following a divorce 7 years previously, has encountered difficulties with her son who has unaccountably committed a misdemeanour - and there is the possibility of further action against him as the misdemeanour has been directed against an emerging Somali population in the town from which all three Burgess siblings hailed. Meanwhile both Jim and Bob have problems in their personal lives, and the novelist also enters into the lives of the immigrant Somali community.

I found this a novel that held my attention, but I did not feel it was the equal of the other novels I've read by this author. I'd suggest starting with Olive Kittredge or My Name is Lucy Barton. It's admirable that she is trying something new in this novel, particularly in the Somali segments, but I didn't feel it was as successful as what I presume is more familiar material in her other novels.
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on 19 September 2017
I really enjoyed her book Olive Ketteridge (which was a book club read) so much that I bought a copy.This book although I enjoyed it was not as good. Please don't be put off by this, as it is worth reading and I did enjoy it.My reviews of books don't tell of the book as I think if onr knows too much the vision of the book becomes tainted no matter how slight. I'll just say read this book and make your own mind up about it, after all this is only my opinion.
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on 11 December 2017
3.5 stars

I loved the first half with all the tensions being send up around the migrant community in the rather homogeneous town. But the storyline then rather lost its way and fizzled out. This was my first venture with Ms Stroute; she has such good reviews that I think I must try another
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on 26 September 2014
The Burgess children, two boys and a girl, have grown up against the background of the tragic accident that killed their father. Who was responsible? Or does it not matter? Years later we meet the three siblings in their middle age and life is not straightforward for
any of them, not even the highly regarded Jim who supposedly holds the family together.

The novel charters their reaction to a family crisis and by the end the family dynamic is vastly different.

Set in New York and Shirley Falls, Maine the contrast between big city and small town America provides a strong background to modern life.

This is a novel for those who enjoy watching the interactions between siblings, particularly if like me you have 2 boys and a girl, supposedly grown up but who knows....
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on 9 May 2017
This is about so much more than I expected. I am left with a calm, understanding.

This book continues to surprise and held me in its grasp throughout.

Read it.
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on 13 May 2017
I am of an age where there is more past than future. Reading this story the various characters seemed to mirror ones own life and journey in many ways. Compelling but disturbing at the same time.
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on 19 November 2017
Thoroughly enjoyed this book - superb writing, couldn't put it down. If you like Anne Tyler books you'll enjoy this.
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on 18 January 2016
This story takes you on a real journey and none of the characters remain unchanged by the end. I was genuinely disappointed when I finished it & would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for great writing, insight into human behaviour and a genuine exploration of real human dilemmas. I loved it!
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on 5 May 2017
Great story telling with shrewd observations about sibling relationships , I liked Helens comments about her own aging and change in her attitude to life
Good read for a book club with lots to discuss
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