Tuesday, March 5, 2013

THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

A five star review

After starting slowly, The Burgess Boys became quietly fascinating. I kept reading and reading until I finished it in just two days (with many life interruptions). Although I didn’t like Jim, he was spellbinding in his dysfunction. Bob, the much more likeable brother, was engaging in his own brand of dysfunction. Susan, and her son Zach, were simply damaged by life and therefore potentially damaging to everyone around them.  The supporting characters were as carefully drawn as the main characters and compelling in their own way. 
I appreciated the way Strout revealed her characters in drips and drabs, constantly leading you further into an understanding their emotions.
The incident that brought all the characters together was never fully explained – possibly because the perpetrator didn’t know – or even have – a reason. The incident that initially damaged the family was revealed in the ending, but could be inferred much earlier in the book. 
This was a lovely book, well written and engaging. The family dynamics would lend themselves to an interesting group discussion.  The two “incidents” would also generate discussion.  Other topics useful for book groups are birth order, twins, divorce, unfaithfulness in marriage, women’s roles, race relations, criminal punishment, defense lawyers who defend those they know to be guilty and family roles.

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