The Burgess Boys

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER ? Includes Elizabeth Strout?s never-before-published essay about the origins of The Burgess Boys

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

The Washington Post ? NPR ? Good Housekeeping

Elizabeth Strout ?animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,? wrote The New Yorker on the publication of her Pulitzer Prize?winning Olive Kitteridge. The ...

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The Burgess Boys: A Novel

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Overview

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Includes Elizabeth Strout’s never-before-published essay about the origins of The Burgess Boys

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY

The Washington Post • NPR • Good Housekeeping

Elizabeth Strout “animates the ordinary with an astonishing force,” wrote The New Yorker on the publication of her Pulitzer Prize–winning Olive Kitteridge. The San Francisco Chronicle praised Strout’s “magnificent gift for humanizing characters.” Now the acclaimed author returns with a stunning novel as powerful and moving as any work in contemporary literature.
 
Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.
 
With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

Look for special features inside. Join the Random House Reader’s Circle for author chats and more.

“What truly makes Strout exceptional . . . is the perfect balance she achieves between the tides of story and depths of feeling.”Chicago Tribune

“Strout’s prose propels the story forward with moments of startlingly poetic clarity.”The New Yorker
 
“Elizabeth Strout’s first two books, Abide with Me and Amy and Isabelle, were highly thought of, and her third, Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. But The Burgess Boys, her most recent novel, is her best yet.”The Boston Globe
 
“A portrait of an American community in turmoil that’s as ambitious as Philip Roth’s American Pastoral but more intimate in tone.”Time
 
“[Strout’s] extraordinary narrative gifts are evident again. . . . At times [The Burgess Boys is] almost effortlessly fluid, with superbly rendered dialogue, sudden and unexpected bolts of humor and . . . startling riffs of gripping emotion.”—Associated Press
 
“[Strout] is at her masterful best when conjuring the two Burgess boys. . . . Scenes between them ring so true.”San Francisco Chronicle

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout's first novel since her Pulitzer Prize-winning 2008 Olive Kitteridge and it doesn't disappoint. A troubling family crisis brings brothers Jim and Bob Burgess back to the town where they grew up and where their father died when they were just children. The siblings are both lawyers, but in ways, they couldn't be more different: Intense, workaholic Jim is a topflight corporate attorney, while Bob earns his meager daily bread defending Legal Aid clients. Their hasty flight back to their sister Susan's home becomes the catalyst for surprises and unexpected relationship changes. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles
After Amy and Isabelle, Abide with Me and the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, no one should be surprised by the poignancy and emotional vigor of Elizabeth Strout's new novel. But the broad social and political range of The Burgess Boys shows just how impressively this extraordinary writer continues to develop…As she showed in Olive Kitteridge, Strout is something of a connoisseur of emotional cruelty. But does anyone capture middle age quite as tenderly? Those latent fears—of change, of not changing, of being alone, of being stuck forever with the same person. There seems no limit to her sympathy, her ability to express, without the acrid tone of irony, our selfish, needy anxieties that only family can aggravate—and quell.
The New York Times Book Review - Sylvia Brownrigg
…fluid and compassionate…Strout handles her storytelling with grace, intelligence and low-key humor, demonstrating a great ear for the many registers in which people speak to their loved ones.
Publishers Weekly
Strout’s follow-up to her 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Olive Kitteridge links a trio of middle-aged siblings with a group of Somali immigrants in a familiar story about isolation within families and communities. The Burgesses have troubles both public and secret: sour, divorced Susan, who stayed in the family’s hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, with her teenage son Zachary; big-hearted Bob, who feels guilty about their father’s fatal car accident; and celebrity defense lawyer Jim, who moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. When Zachary hurls a bloody pig’s head into a Somali mosque during Ramadan, fragile connections between siblings, the Somalis, and other Shirley Falls residents are tested. Jim’s bullish meddling into Zach’s trial hurts rather than helps, and Susan’s inability to act without her brothers’ advice cements her role as the weakest link (and least interesting character). Finally, when Jim’s neurotic wife, Helen, witnesses the depth of her husband’s indifference and Bob’s ex-wife, Pam, finds the security of her new life in Manhattan tested by nostalgia for Shirley Falls, Zach’s fate—and that of the Somalis—becomes an unfortunate afterthought. Strout excels in constructing an intricate web of circuitous family drama, which makes for a powerful story, but the familiarity of the novel’s questions and a miraculously disentangled denouement drain the story of depth. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
Two squabbling brothers confront their demons, their crumbling love lives and a hate crime case that thrusts them back to their Maine roots. The titular boys of this follow-up to Strout's Pulitzer-winning 2008 short story collection, Olive Kitteridge, are Jim and Bob Burgess, who are similar on the surface--lawyers, New Yorkers--but polar opposites emotionally. Jim is a high-wattage trial attorney who's quick with a cruel rejoinder designed to put people in their place, while Bob is a divorcé who works for Legal Aid and can't shake the guilt of killing his dad in a freak accident as a child. The two snap into action when their sister's son in their native Maine is apprehended for throwing a pig's head into a mosque. The scenario gives Strout an opportunity to explore the culture of the Somalis who have immigrated to the state in recent years--a handful of scenes are told from the perspective of a Somali cafe owner, baffled by American arrogance, racism and cruelty. But this is mainly a carefully manicured study of domestic (American and household) dysfunction with some rote messages about the impermanence of power and the goodness that resides in hard-luck souls--it gives nothing away to say that Jim comes to a personal reckoning and that Bob isn't quite the doormat he's long been thought to be. Speeding the plot turns along are Jim's wife, Helen, an old-money repository of white guilt, and Jim and Bob's sister, Susan, a hardscrabble repository of parental anxiety. Strout's writing is undeniably graceful and observant: She expertly captures the frenetic pace of New York and relative sluggishness of Maine. But her character arrangements often feel contrived, archetypal and predestined; Jim's in particular becomes a clichéd symbol of an overinflated ego. A skilled but lackluster novel that dutifully ticks off the boxes of family strife, infidelity and ripped-from-the-headlines issues.
From the Publisher
“Strout’s prose propels the story forward with moments of startlingly poetic clarity.”The New Yorker
 
“Elizabeth Strout’s first two books, Abide with Me and Amy and Isabelle, were highly thought of, and her third, Olive Kitteridge, won the Pulitzer Prize in fiction. But The Burgess Boys, her most recent novel, is her best yet.”The Boston Globe
 
“Strout’s greatest gift as a writer, outside a diamond-sharp precision that packs 320 fast-paced pages full of insight, is her ability to let the reader in on all the rancor of her characters without making any of them truly detestable. . . . Strout creates a portrait of an American community in turmoil that’s as ambitious as Philip Roth’s American Pastoral but more intimate in tone.”Time
 
“[Strout’s] extraordinary narrative gifts are evident again. . . . At times [The Burgess Boys is] almost effortlessly fluid, with superbly rendered dialogue, sudden and unexpected bolts of humor and . . . startling riffs of gripping emotion.”—Associated Press
 
“[Strout] is at her masterful best when conjuring the two Burgess boys. . . . Scenes between them ring so true.”San Francisco Chronicle
 
“No one should be surprised by the poignancy and emotional vigor of Elizabeth Strout’s new novel. But the broad social and political range of The Burgess Boys shows just how impressively this extraordinary writer continues to develop.”The Washington Post
 
“What truly makes Strout exceptional—and her latest supple and penetrating novel so profoundly affecting—is the perfect balance she achieves between the tides of story and depths of feeling. . . . Every element in Strout’s graceful, many-faceted novel is keenly observed, lustrously imagined and trenchantly interpreted.”Chicago Tribune
 
“Strout deftly exposes the tensions that fester among families. But she also takes a broader view, probing cultural divides. . . . Illustrating the power of roots, Strout assures us we can go home again—though we may not want to.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“Reading an Elizabeth Strout novel is like peering into your neighbor’s windows. . . . There is a nuanced tension in the novel, evoked by beautiful and detailed writing. Strout’s manifestations of envy, pride, guilt, selflessness, bigotry and love are subtle and spot-on.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Strout conveys what it feels like to be an outsider very well, whether she’s delving into the quiet inner lives of Somalis in Shirley Falls or showing how the Burgess kids got so alienated from one another. But the details are so keenly observed, you can connect with the characters despite their apparent isolation. . . . [A] gracefully written novel. [Grade:] A.”Entertainment Weekly
 
“Wincingly funny, moving, wise.”Good Housekeeping
 
“With her signature lack of sentimentality, a boatload of clear-eyed compassion and a penetrating prose style that makes the novel riveting, Strout tells the story of one Maine family, transformed. Again and again, she identifies precisely the most complex of filial emotions while illuminating our relationships to the larger families we all belong to: a region, a city, America and the world.”More
 
The Burgess Boys returns to coastal Maine [with] a grand unifying plot, all twists and damage and dark, morally complex revelations. . . . The grand scale suits Strout, who now adds impresario storytelling at book length to the Down East gift for plainspoken wisdom.”Town & Country

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067688
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/26/2013
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 475,285
  • Product dimensions: 6.64 (w) x 9.34 (h) x 1.22 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth  Strout
Elizabeth Strout is the author of the New York Times bestseller Olive Kitteridge, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize; the national bestseller Abide with Me; and Amy and Isabelle, winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize. She has also been a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in London. She lives in Maine and New York City.

Biography

With the kind of reception that Elizabeth Strout's debut novel Amy and Isabelle received, one might have expected her to rush right back to her writing desk to author a follow-up while the proverbial iron was still hot. However, that is not the way that Strout works. "I wish tremendously that I was faster about all this," she recently told Bookpage.com. "But, you know, it didn't turn out to be that way." It ultimately took her about seven years to write Abide with Me, her sophomore effort, and the amount of time she put into crafting the novel is apparent on every page.

The multitudinous hours that went into writing Abide with Me are not anything new to Elizabeth Strout. She took any equally measured number of years to writer her debut, which she developed out of a short story. "It took me around three years to ‘clear my throat' for this book," she told Bookreporter.com at the time of the release of Amy and Isabelle. "During much of that time Amy and Isabelle remained a story. Once I got down to actually writing it as a novel it took another six or seven years." However, the pay off for the time she spent writing this humorous, expertly rendered tale of the troubled relationship between a mother and her daughter was substantial. Amy and Isabelle received nearly unanimous praise, lauded by Mademoiselle, The New Yorker, Newsweek, Time Magazine, People Magazine, and Publishers Weekly, to name just a few. The novel also nabbed nominations for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and the Orange Prize for Fiction, and was the subject of a 2001 made-for-television movie starring Elizabeth Shue.

So, what kept Strout from completing her second novel sooner? Perhaps it was her unorthodox writing methods. "I try to get in three or four hours (of writing per day)," she explains, "and I put off having lunch for as long as I can because having lunch seems to change the energy flow. If I'm lucky, I'll get through till one o'clock. And then I throw everything out. And that's a morning's work."

While Strout may be indulging in a little good-natured, comical leg-pulling, she did not write Abide with Me to elicit giggles from her readers. This somber piece introduces Tyler Caskey, a minister in a small New England community whose mounting personal doubts following a tragedy cause the community that he serves to develop their own doubts about his ability to guide them spiritually.

While Abide with Me stands in contrast to the comparatively humorous Amy and Isabelle, it was not Strout's intention to render a serious exploration of theology or religion. She views the book as more of a character study. "It is the story of a minister," she explains. "I was interested in writing about a religious man who is genuine in his religiosity and who gets confronted with such sadness so abruptly that he loses himself. Not his faith, but his faith in himself."

With the admiration already pouring in for Abide with Me, Strout may very well have another bestseller on her hands. Publishers Weekly has called this striking novel "a harrowing meditation of exile on Main Street," while Booklist suggested that "Readers who enjoyed...Amy and Isabelle... will find much to move them in this tale of a man trying to get past his grief amid a town full of colorful people with their own secrets and heartaches."

Such praise may be of little interest to Strout, who once told Bookreporter.com, "When I finish a piece, I put it behind me and look to my future work." But considering her leisurely work methods, it may be several years before her readers get their hands on her any of her future work -- not that Strout needs to worry about whether or not her fans will forget her. As long as she continues producing work as rich and compelling as Amy and Isabelle and Abide with Me, she can take all the time she needs.

Update:
In 2009 Strout was honored with a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for Olive Kitteridge, a collection of connected short stories about a woman and her immediate family and friends on the coast of Maine.

Good To Know

Some fun and fascinating outtakes from our interview with Strout:

"My first job was when I was about 12, cleaning houses in the afternoons for different elderly women in town. I hated it. I would be so bored scrubbing at some kitchen tile, that my mind would finally float all over the place, to the beach, to a friend's house...all this happened in my mind as I scrubbed those tiles, so it was certainly good for my imagination. But I did hate it."

"Without a doubt my mother was an inspiration for my writing. This is true in many ways, but mostly because she is a wonderful storyteller, without even knowing it. I would listen, as a child, when some friend of hers came to visit, and they would gossip about the different people they knew. My mother had the most fascinating stories about people's families, murderers, mental illnesses, babies abandoned, and she delivered it all in a matter-of-fact way that was terribly compelling. It made me believe that there was nothing more interesting than the lives of people, their real hidden lives, and this of course can lead one down the path of becoming a fiction writer."

"Later, in college, one of my favorite things was to go into town and sit at the counter at Woolworth's (so tragic to have them gone!) and listen to people talking; the waitresses and the customers -- I loved it. I still love to eavesdrop, but mostly I like the idea of being around people who are right in the middle of their lives, revealing certain details to each other -- leaving the rest for me to make up."

"I love theater. I love sitting in an audience and having the actors right there, playing out what it means to be a human being. There is something about the actual relationship that is going on between the audience and the actors that I just love. I love seeing the sets and costumes, the decisions that have been made about the staging...it's a place for the eye and the ear to be fully involved. I have always loved theater."

"I also like cell phones. What I mean by that is I hear many people complain about cell phones; they can't go anywhere without hearing someone on a cell phone, etc. But I love that chance to hear half a conversation, even if the person is just saying, ‘Hi honey, I'll be home in ten minutes, do you want me to bring some milk?' And I'm also grateful to have a cell phone, just to know it's there if I need it when I'm out and about. So I'm a cell phone fan."

"I don't especially like to travel, not the way many people do. I know many people that love to go to far-off and different places, and I've never been like that. I seem to get homesick as quickly as a child. I may like being in some new place for a few days, but then I want to go home and return to my routine and my familiar corner stores. I am a real creature of habit, without a doubt."

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    1. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      January 6, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Portland, Maine
    1. Education:
      B.A., Bates College, 1977; J.D., Syracuse College of Law, 1982
    2. Website:

Read an Excerpt

1

On a breezy October afternoon in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, Helen Farber Burgess was packing for vacation. A big blue suitcase lay open on the bed, and clothes her husband had chosen the night before were folded and stacked on the lounge chair nearby. Sunlight kept springing into the room from the shifting clouds outside, making the brass knobs on the bed shine brightly and the suitcase become very blue. Helen was walking back and forth between the dressing room—­with its enormous mirrors and white horsehair wallpaper, the dark woodwork around the long window—­walking between that and the bedroom, which had French doors that were closed right now, but in warmer weather opened onto a deck that looked out over the garden. Helen was experiencing a kind of mental paralysis that occurred when she packed for a trip, so the abrupt ringing of the telephone brought relief. When she saw the word private, she knew it was either the wife of one of her husband’s law partners—­they were a prestigious firm of famous lawyers—­or else her brother-­in-­law, Bob, who’d had an unlisted number for years but was not, and never would be, famous at all.

“I’m glad it’s you,” she said, pulling a colorful scarf from the bureau drawer, holding it up, dropping it on the bed.

“You are?” Bob’s voice sounded surprised.

“I was afraid it would be Dorothy.” Walking to the window, Helen peered out at the garden. The plum tree was bending in the wind, and yellow leaves from the bittersweet swirled across the ground.

“Why didn’t you want it to be Dorothy?”

“She tires me right now,” said Helen.

“You’re about to go away with them for a week.”

“Ten days. I know.”

A short pause, and then Bob said, “Yeah,” his voice dropping into an understanding so quick and entire—­it was his strong point, Helen thought, his odd ability to fall feetfirst into the little pocket of someone else’s world for those few seconds. It should have made him a good husband but apparently it hadn’t: Bob’s wife had left him years ago.

“We’ve gone away with them before,” Helen reminded him. “It’ll be fine. Alan’s an awfully nice fellow. Dull.”

“And managing partner of the firm,” Bob said.

“That too.” Helen sang the words playfully. “A little difficult to say, ‘Oh, we’d rather go alone on this trip.’ Jim says their older girl is really messing up right now—­she’s in high school—­and the family therapist suggested that Dorothy and Alan get away. I don’t know why you ‘get away’ if your kid’s messing up, but there we are.”

“I don’t know either,” Bob said sincerely. Then: “Helen, this thing just happened.”

She listened, folding a pair of linen slacks. “Come on over,” she interrupted. “We’ll go across the street for dinner when Jim gets home.”

After that she was able to pack with authority. The colorful scarf was included with three white linen blouses and black ballet flats and the coral necklace Jim had bought her last year. Over a whiskey sour with Dorothy on the terrace, while they waited for the men to shower from golf, Helen would say, “Bob’s an interesting fellow.” She might even mention the accident—­how it was Bob, four years old, who’d been playing with the gears that caused the car to roll over their father and kill him; the man had walked down the hill of the driveway to fix something about the mailbox, leaving all three young kids in the car. A perfectly awful thing. And never mentioned. Jim had told her once in thirty years. But Bob was an anxious man, Helen liked to watch out for him.

“You’re rather a saint,” Dorothy might say, sitting back, her eyes blocked by huge sunglasses.

Helen would shake her head. “Just a person who needs to be needed. And with the children grown—­” No, she’d not mention the children. Not if the Anglins’ daughter was flunking courses, staying out until dawn. How would they spend ten days together and not mention the children? She’d ask Jim.

Helen went downstairs, stepped into the kitchen. “Ana,” she said to her housekeeper, who was scrubbing sweet potatoes with a vegetable brush. “Ana, we’re going to eat out tonight. You can go home.”

The autumn clouds, magnificent in their variegated darkness, were being spread apart by the wind, and great streaks of sunshine splashed down on the buildings on Seventh Avenue. This is where the Chinese restaurants were, the card shops, the jewelry shops, the grocers with the fruits and vegetables and rows of cut flowers. Bob Burgess walked past all these, up the sidewalk in the direction of his brother’s house.

Bob was a tall man, fifty-­one years old, and here was the thing about Bob: He was a likeable fellow. To be with Bob made people feel as if they were inside a small circle of us-­ness. If Bob had known this about himself his life might have been different. But he didn’t know it, and his heart was often touched by an undefined fear. Also, he wasn’t consistent. Friends agreed that you could have a great time with him and then you’d see him again and he’d be vacant. This part Bob knew, because his former wife had told him. Pam said he went away in his head.

“Jim gets like that too,” Bob had offered.

“We’re not talking about Jim.”

Waiting at the curb for the light to change, Bob felt a swell of gratitude toward his sister-­in-­law, who’d said, “We’ll go across the street for dinner when Jim gets home.” It was Jim he wanted to see. What Bob had watched earlier, sitting by the window in his fourth-­floor apartment, what he had heard in the apartment down below—­it had shaken him, and crossing the street now, passing a coffee shop where young people sat on couches in cavernous gloom with faces mesmerized by laptop screens, Bob felt removed from the familiarity of all he walked by. As though he had not lived half his life in New York and loved it as one would a person, as though he had never left the wide expanses of wild grass, never known or wanted anything but bleak New England skies.

“Your sister just called,” said Helen as she let Bob in through the grated door beneath the brownstone’s stoop. “Wanted Jim and sounded grim.” Helen turned from hanging Bob’s coat in the closet, adding, “I know. It’s just the way she sounds. But I still say, Susan smiled at me once.” Helen sat on the couch, tucking her legs in their black tights beneath her. “I was trying to copy a Maine accent.”

Bob sat in the rocking chair. His knees pumped up and down.

“No one should try and copy a Maine accent to a Mainer,” Helen continued. “I don’t know why the Southerners are so much nicer about it, but they are. If you say ‘Hi, y’all’ to a Southerner, you don’t feel like they’re smirking at you. Bobby, you’re all jumpy.” She leaned forward, patting the air. “It’s all right. You can be jumpy as long as you’re okay. Are you okay?”

All his life, kindness had weakened Bob, and he felt now the physicality of this, a sort of fluidity moving through his chest. “Not really,” he admitted. “But you’re right about the accent stuff. When people say, ‘Hey, you’re from Maine, you can’t get they-­ah from he-­yah,’ it’s painful. Painful stuff.”

“I know that,” Helen said. “Now you tell me what happened.”

Bob said, “Adriana and Preppy Boy were fighting again.”

“Wait,” said Helen. “Oh, of course. The couple below you. They have that idiot little dog who yaps all the time.”

“That’s right.”

“Go on,” Helen said, pleased she’d remembered this. “One second, Bob. I have to tell you what I saw on the news last night. This segment called ‘Real Men Like Small Dogs.’ They interviewed these different, sort of—­sorry—­faggy-looking guys who were holding these tiny dogs that were dressed in plaid raincoats and rubber boots, and I thought: This is news? We’ve got a war going on in Iraq for almost four years now, and this is what they call news? It’s because they don’t have children. People who dress their dogs like that. Bob, I’m awfully sorry. Go on with your story.”

Helen picked up a pillow and stroked it. Her face had turned pink, and Bob thought she was having a hot flash, so he looked down at his hands to give her privacy, not realizing that Helen had blushed because she’d spoken of people who did not have children—­as Bob did not.

“They fight,” Bob said. “And when they fight, Preppy Boy—­husband, they’re married—­yells the same thing over and over. ‘Adriana, you’re driving me fucking crazy.’ Over and over again.”

Helen shook her head. “Imagine living like that. Do you want a drink?” She rose and went to the mahogany cupboard, where she poured whiskey into a crystal tumbler. She was a short, still shapely woman in her black skirt and beige sweater.

Bob drank half the whiskey in one swallow. “Anyways,” he continued, and saw a small tightening on Helen’s face. She hated how he said “Anyways,” though he always forgot this, and he forgot it now, only felt the foreboding of failure. He wasn’t going to be able to convey the sadness of what he had seen. “She comes home,” Bob said. “They start to fight. He does his yelling thing. Then he takes the dog out. But this time, while he’s gone, she calls the police. She’s never done that before. He comes back and they arrest him. I heard the cops tell him that his wife said he’d hit her. And thrown her clothes out the window. So they arrested him. And he was amazed.”

Helen’s face looked as if she didn’t know what to say.

“He’s this good-­looking guy, very cool in his zip-up sweater, and he stood there crying, ‘Baby, I never hit you, baby, seven years we’ve been married, what are you doing? Baby, pleeeease!’ But they cuffed him and walked him across the street in broad daylight to the cruiser and he’s spending the night in the pens.” Bob eased himself out of the rocking chair, went to the mahogany cupboard, and poured himself more whiskey.

“That’s a very sad story,” said Helen, who was disappointed. She had hoped it would be more dramatic. “But he might have thought of that before he hit her.”

“I don’t think he did hit her.” Bob returned to the rocking chair.

Helen said musingly, “I wonder if they’ll stay married.”

“I don’t think so.” Bob was tired now.

“What bothered you most, Bobby?” Helen asked. “The marriage falling apart, or the arrest?” She took it personally, his expression of not finding relief.

Bob rocked a few times. “Everything.” He snapped his fingers. “Like that, it happened. I mean, it was just an ordinary day, Helen.”

Helen plumped the pillow against the back of the couch. “I don’t know what’s ordinary about a day when you have your husband arrested.”

Turning his head, Bob saw through the grated windows his brother walking up the sidewalk, and a small rush of anxiety came to him at the sight of this: ­his older brother’s quick gait, his long coat, the thick leather briefcase. There was the sound of the key in the door.

“Hi, sweetheart,” said Helen. “Your brother’s here.”

“I see that.” Jim shrugged off his coat and hung it in the hall closet. Bob had never learned to hang up his coat. What is it with you?, his wife, Pam, used to ask, What is it, what is it, what is it? And what was it? He could not say. But whenever he walked through a door, unless someone took his coat for him, the act of hanging it up seemed needless and . . . well, too difficult.

“I’ll go.” Bob said. “I have a brief to work on.” Bob worked in the appellate division of Legal Aid, reading case records at the trial level. There was always an appeal that required a brief, always a brief to be worked on.

“Don’t be silly,” said Helen. “I said we’d go across the street for supper.”

“Out of my chair, knucklehead.” Jim waved a hand in Bob’s direction. “Glad to see you. It’s been what, four days?”

“Stop it, Jim. Your brother saw that downstairs neighbor of his taken away in handcuffs this afternoon.”

“Trouble in the graduate dorm?”

“Jim, stop.”

“He’s just being my brother,” Bob said. He moved to the couch, and Jim sat down in the rocking chair.

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Reading Group Guide

1. How did the narrator’s introduction telegraph your expectations about the Burgess family?

2. Jim and Bob Burgess both left Shirley Falls for New York City. Why there, when they could have gone anywhere? And why did Susan stay behind?

3. The Burgess siblings have lived with a childhood trauma their whole lives. How has each one compensated for this in his or her personal and professional adult life?

4. Which Burgess brother, Jim or Bob, did you find more sympathetic? Did you find yourself changing your mind as the story unfolded?

5. To many readers, Jim may seem more competent than Bob in dealing with Zach’s “prank.” Do you agree? If not, why not?

6. What did you learn about the Somali population in Shirley Falls? How do you see this as a particularly American story, if you do? And if not, why not? Initially, each of the Burgess siblings reacts uniquely to the Somali population. What do you think causes each individual response, and how do you see it change?

7. When Jim reveals his own childhood secret, what journey does Bob have to take to first separate from and then return to his brother, Jim? What about their relationship has changed? What, if anything, remains the same?

8. What do you think compelled Zach to throw the pig’s head into the mosque?

9. Both Burgess brothers are lawyers. How do their inner lives reflect their very different professional choices?

10. How do Helen and Susan’s roles as mothers define them?

11. How does the Burgess family’s multigenerational history in Shirley Falls add to the siblings’ emotional challenges?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 115 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(33)

4 Star

(27)

3 Star

(23)

2 Star

(17)

1 Star

(15)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 115 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 3, 2013

    I don't usually leave recommendations, but I decided this book n

    I don't usually leave recommendations, but I decided this book needed to be talked about. I read Olive Ketteridge previously and knew this would also be a wonderful book. I love a good story with strong characters and this has both. There are no wild twists or torns, no sex, and no intrigue - just good story telling with a message. If you hunger for a good story, this is it.

    21 out of 23 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    Definitely Reccomend

    As soon as I saw that Elizabeth Stroud had a new book coming out I pre-ordered The Burgess Boys! I was hooked on the author after reading Olive Kitteridge which I loved. This book is ultimately a story of a family's entertwined lives and how each member fits into the family dynamic while dealing with a crisis. I enjoy reading Ms. Stroud's style of writing, it keeps me turning the pages. Some may find the interaction between the family members uncomfortable to read at times but it is true to the story.

    7 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 5, 2013

    No recommendation

    This is a dreary read. ...a dysfunctional family story-and mostly unlikable characters.
    Olive Kitteridge was a favorite! too bad this one didn't measure up.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2013

    Basically boring but well written.

    Somewhat interesting family dynamics but moved too slowly and was at times boring. Story line seemed interesting but fell flat of my xpectations.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 24, 2013

    Elizabeth Strout - The Burgess Boys As in her Pulitzer winning n

    Elizabeth Strout - The Burgess Boys
    As in her Pulitzer winning novel Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys is populated by flawed characters living in an imperfect world where grace comes from unexpected sources.  One should not assume that her writing is in anyway formulaic however as both books are exceptionally well written and reveal insights that have this reader at least questioning past, present, and future.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2013

    I found this book very depressing. I was disappointed. It's no

    I found this book very depressing. I was disappointed. It's not what I thougfht it would be.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2013

    Not a book for Everyone

    Elizabeth Strout has her own style of writing, which pleases the literary critics. However, subject content is another matter. This book did not hold my interest, and I found it difficult to get through the entire book. In fact, other than emphasis on social issues of the day, I was left wondering what point she was trying to make, and when she was going to get to the story. We get enough of such concentrations by the media, we don't need acclaimed writers to devote an entire book to such. I was truly disappointed. I book so highly recommended is not one I would recommend.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 16, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Love it, Also love Too Crazy To Live Too Beautiful To Die def re

    Love it, Also love Too Crazy To Live Too Beautiful To Die
    def recommend
    great read

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2013

    Good charecters Rectwr

    Slow at times but great writer

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 1, 2013

    ?

    This is a book review site not a chat room!!!!!!

    2 out of 45 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 6, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Boring. Hard time getting into the story - didn't finish it.

    Boring. Hard time getting into the story - didn't finish it.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2013

    fantastic

    Her writing is masterful, with compelling characters who somehow manage tounveil their true selves in mid-life
    Love her writing

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 4, 2013

    Definitely a good read

    I read this wonderful book for a book club discussion. There are so many interesting characters and story lines that our discussion took many paths. I would definitely read other books by this author.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Study of Family Dynamics

    I found this to be an interesting story of an imperfect family as they find themselves dealing with a criminal act of the nephew. As the family history unravels, it is clear that the characters have all contributed to make the family very dysfunctional. However, in the end, the more successful brother, not suprisingly, was less able to cope with his failings than his other siblings who had lived most of their lives feeling inferior. I really liked the book, but felt the ending was a bit abrupt. It did make me continue to wonder how the characters would proceed in life. So sometimes an unknown ending is what makes us ponder about the characters longer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Another great book by Elizabeth Strout. I didn't want to put it

    Another great book by Elizabeth Strout. I didn't want to put it down! Iwas very tired at work for a few days staying up to late reading it. I loved this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2013

    After reading "Olive Kitteridge I couldn't wait to read Str

    After reading "Olive Kitteridge I couldn't wait to read Strout's new book and was very disappointed. As each new event happened and each new character was introduced, I knew exactly what would happen. I really do not like a story where everything gets as bad as it can then in the last paragraph, all turns out right. I would not recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2013

    Strout Strikes Gold

    The Burgess Boys is the story of a family of siblings that come together to assist a son and nephew accused of a hate crime. He has bowled a pig head into a mosque during services. While he exits the scene to visit his father, the uncles relationships deteriorate. Strout really understands her brothers and Cassandra Campbell interprets all of her characters brilliantly. This book is for anyone who likes stories about families and relationships. I enjoyed Strout's Olive Kitteridge as well. I would enjoy leading a book club discussion of this book.

    1 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2014

    James

    Waits

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted August 15, 2014

    Disappointed.

    This is the second Elizabeth Strout book I've read. After reading both, I came away with the same conclusions. I was impressed by Ms. Strout's ability to build strong characters with great depth. BUT, in both books, I found myself pushing through to force myself to finish because of the weak story line.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    This story patiently describes a harsh early life situation for

    This story patiently describes a harsh early life situation for two young boys. It shows how life 'moves on' regardless, and then, over time, we get to see the after-effects of early trauma on brothers. Readers discover how unhealed post traumatic effects DO play out, perhaps moreso on the brother who insists that he is the more strong and capable. I learned, in reading The Burgess Brothers, that here is no wound that can be left unhealed, or unacknowledged..or not passed on to the next generation. Elizabeth Strout tucked all of this into a poignant and engaging read - as she always does so well.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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