Friday, May 3, 2013

The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The latest novel by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout was an interesting read.  What I particularly liked was how it kept switching points of view - from the two Burgess boys, Jim and Bob, to Jim's wife, Bob's ex-wife, the Burgess sister...

The Burgess's were a small town Vermont family.  Jim and Bob both became lawyers and "escaped" to New York though Jim was a high profile criminal trial lawyer while Bob did appeal work for the underprivileged.  Jim made a name for himself successfully defending a famous musician (who was likely guilty) and married a wealthy Connecticut woman.  They had three children who have now moved on to college.  Bob could not take the stress of trial work so moved to appeals and was unable to make his marriage or subsequent relationships work so lives on his own in an apartment his brother refers to as a dormitory.  Both brothers are forced back to their home town when their nephew, the only child of their divorced sister, is accused of tossing a pig's head into a local mosque.

The story focuses on how the brothers deal with their return home, and their relationship with their sister.  But it's really overshadowed by the story of their father's death when they were young children.  Bob has always blamed himself for what happened but Jim makes a startling confession which makes him question how he's viewed himself for his whole life.  By the end, the brothers appear to have switched roles in the family - Bob is now the more stable, in control brother.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the Burgess family dynamic.

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