Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Burgess Boys--Review

Elizabeth Strout's newest novel is called The Burgess Boys. It is worth wondering why it is titled so, because the book is about three siblings, the Burgesses--a successful New York lawyer Jim,  a less successful but amiable New York lawyer Bob, and Bob's twin sister Susan who has remained in the small Maine town where the three grew up.

The plot line centers on a foolish act perpetrated by Susan's son, Zach.  The brothers are called on to help out Zach. They travel to Maine and otherwise occupy themselves with Zach's legal case.

But the events with Zach are peripheral to the essential story which relates to the relationships the three siblings have with each other, and with their spouses.  And the demons they wrestle with.

Jim is puffed up, famous because of a victory in an OJ Simpson like case.  He is full of himself and his relationship with his wife Helen seems to be a good one.  Bob, on the other hand, is a modest sweetheart but a boozer and smoker who misses his ex wife Pam. Susan's marriage disintegrated and she feels that Zach's asocial behavior is a reflection of some failure.

And then there is a family event and secret that creates less than terra firma for the three of them. The land shifts seismically during the novel with some predictable results.

This is not as good as Strout's Olive Kitteridge, but still an engaging read.  The Bob character will stay with me for a spell.  What happens to Jim is predictable, but at the end I found myself disappointed that the author did not tie up the knot there.  Susan and Zach I suspect will be Susan and Zach with slight changes ten years from now.

So all families and all of us have issues.  Those who stay the course and ride out the turbulence honestly may be those who, in the final analysis, have the most enjoyable ride.

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