Monday, November 3, 2014

Book review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

I adored Elizabeth Strout's previous novel/short story collection, Olive Kitteridge, so I was very excited to read this... except then I didn't read it right away. The reviews I read were good but not glowing. And while the concept was intriguing, it didn't scream "read me." And I kind of agree with the vibe I was getting: the book was good but not great, and had a lot of unrealized potential.

Jim and Bob Burgess have escaped from Maine to New York City where Jim is a big-time successful lawyer, and Bob works for legal aid. Their sister, Susan, stayed in Maine. She calls in a panic one day when her son is arrested for a hate crime. He rolled a bloody pig's head into a mosque.

Bob's character to me was slippery where sometimes he seemed mentally slow but at other times, quite sharp. Susan didn't seem to have much of a personality, aside from being pathetic and pitiable. Jim was very well-drawn, but also a bit of a caricature. The nephew's changes at the end of the book were a little hard to believe. And I felt that the arrest and court case just didn't have the impact I was expecting. I think the result was actually what would have happened in real life, but that's a let down in a novel. We read novels to experience the horrible things that luckily most often don't happen. We want the extreme highs and extreme lows that life (again, luckily) rarely gives us. So that seemed like potential, missed.

So this book was a mild disappointment, but even a modest book from a great writer is not a bad thing. And I think my expectations may have been too high. I'm not sure any book would have satisfied me after Olive. She would have eaten all of these Burgess siblings alive. I wish she'd shown up to shake things up.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble.

1 comment:

Elizabeth said...

I wasn't a fan of this book either.

Thanks for your review and your thoughts.

Elizabeth
Silver's Reviews