24 February 2013

The Burgess Boys; Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess BoysThe Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was oddly compelling - on their own, I'm not sure the different threads would have worked, but mixed together they did.

The Burgess Boys are bombastic Jim, a famous criminal attorney, and schlumpy Bob, a Legal Aid appeals attorney. There's also a sister, Bob's twin, Susan, who is bitter and apparently overly attached to her strange son Zach. The Boys live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, while Susan has never really escaped Shirley Falls, the small town in Maine they grew up in. The trigger for the changes and disruptions in their lives is that Zach, for reasons unknown (but apparently not malevolent reasons) has taken a frozen pig's head and rolled it into a Somali mosque during Ramadan, Shirley Falls having become a refugee outpost for that population.

By the end of the book, Jim's career and marriage will be in shambles, Bob's assumptions about his life will have completely changed (he moves to Manhattan, becomes less schlumpy, and starts to question his role in the family), Susan is slightly less bitter but closer to both brothers, and Zach's hate crime will send him to his father in Sweden and some measure of happiness. In many ways, these changes are cliche, for example of course Jim will have an affair that leads to his dismissal from the Big Law Firm and his wife kicking him out. It's the writing, the way in which these cliches are approached, that kept me reading.

ARC provided by publisher.

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