The Burgess Boys

Elizabeth Strout. Random, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6768-8
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.)
Reviewed on: 02/04/2013
Release date: 03/26/2013
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Hardcover - 320 pages - 978-1-4711-2738-0
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