Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Burgess Boys

I loved the book Olive Kitteridge and so I was really happy to get Elizabeth Strout's new book. And I was not disappointed. There is something about her characters that really connects with me.  This is a story about three 50-something siblings who grew up in the small town of Shirley Falls,  Maine, where their father died in a tragic accident when they were small.  Jim is a high-profile defense lawyer who couldn't wait to leave Maine for NYC,  and who constantly taunts and belittles his brother Bob. Bob is insecure and awkward and works for Legal Aid in NYC--and absolutely idolizes his brother Jim. Bob's twin sister Susan still lives in Maine and barely acknowledges her twin brother. She is unhappily divorced and lives with her socially awkward teenage son Zach in Shirley Falls.  But now everything is changing in Shirley Falls with its increasing population of Somali immigrants.  A freakish incident involving Susan's son Zach and the Muslim Somalis brings the brothers back to Maine, and the siblings back together. This is a sad book about long-kept secrets,  dysfunctional families,  bitter personalities,  racial intolerance, but there are elements of hope in it too. One Somali man is kind to Zach. Bob is caring and forgiving, even of the brother who belittles him and lies to him.  Most of the characters in Strout's books are not very likeable--Olive Kitteridge was not easy to like--but they are real and they are sad and strange.  But the author lets them grow and they learn things about themselves and you end up caring about them, and I think that's what I like most about Elizabeth Strout's books.

Towards the end of the book Bob tells his brother Jim:

"You have family, " Bob said. "You have a wife who hates you. Kids who are furious with you. A brother and sister who make you insane. And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now. That's called family."

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