The Burgess Boys
by Elizabeth Strout


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 Read more...

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More About The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

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.

Praise for The Burgess Boys

"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

"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

  • ISBN-13: 9781400067688
  • ISBN-10: 1400067685
  • Publisher: Random House
  • Publish Date: March 2013
  • Page Count: 320
  • Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Sagas
Books > Fiction > Literary
Books > Fiction > Family Life - General

BookPage Reviews

Strout returns with a tale of brothers bound by distrust

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Elizabeth Strout is known for the remarkable empathy she shows her characters and for her tough yet truthful depiction of intimate relationships. Her moving new novel, The Burgess Boys, examines how patterns established in childhood can impact the choices we make as adults. When the three Burgesses, who lost their father in a freak accident, are called together over a crisis decades later, they are forced to forge a new set of family dynamics. 

Jim and Bob, the Burgess brothers, may have only moved from Maine to New York, but emotionally, they are far away from the little town of Shirley Falls where they grew up. Jim is a highly visible corporate lawyer, whose cases have brought him fame and some notoriety. His life with his wife Helen in a Park Slope brownstone seems just about perfect, even as they adjust to an empty nest. Younger brother Bob prefers a quieter life as a Legal Aid attorney and idolizes Jim, though he finds some of his career choices distasteful. Neither man maintains anything but the most casual connection with their hometown, and when Bob’s resentful twin, Susan, calls from Maine after her son Zach is charged with a hate crime, their lives are turned upside down. Zach, an isolated and lonely teenager, was caught throwing a pig’s head into the local mosque, and the brothers arrive back in Shirley Falls to handle his case. When the siblings are together once again, long-buried secrets about their father’s accidental death are uncovered and family loyalties and ties are tested.

This is familiar territory for Strout, whose previous books (Amy and Isabelle, Olive Kitteridge) were also set in Maine and featured families strained to their breaking point. Strout casts a wider net in The Burgess Boys, examining how the recent influx of Somalis to Shirley Falls has changed the fabric of the New England town. Her characters navigate the rich urban landscapes of Manhattan and gentrified Park Slope, which stand in stark contrast to the insularity of Shirley Falls. Strout based part of the story on an actual case, and her expertise as a lawyer offers much fruitful detail on the building of a legal case against Zach.

The Burgess Boys is an ambitious novel that weaves an intricate family drama shot through with the threads of race and class, though it occasionally suffers from a lack of focus—Zach’s story is sometimes overshadowed by the squabbling between the siblings and their spouses as they scramble to uncover the unsolvable mystery of their childhood. Nevertheless, Strout excels in constructing an intricate but believable web of family drama, and her ear for how siblings, husbands and wives really communicate makes for a deeply powerful story.

BAM Customer Reviews