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Men Will Be Boys   Leave a comment

Burgessboys

My sons are in their twenties and I still refer to them as the boys. It’s not so unusual, then, that Elizabeth Strout’s latest novel since her Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kittridge identifies the 50-something protagonist brothers as The Burgess Boys. Yet, it’s unsettling that they are such poorly matured men.

The backstory of Bob being accidently responsible for his father’s death is almost a character unto itself. This aspect of the novel emerges slowly and evolves, just as everyone else does, providing an especially interesting angle.

Jim is the older brother, the successful, high-achieving one. Bob, on the other hand, is less driven, and far more endearing. He rarely grows weary of Jim’s disparagements toward him, although reading them is tiresome. The boys left their childhood home in Maine years ago to pursue their lives in New York City. Jim is a hot-shot lawyer and Bob, also a lawyer, serves a different clientele. They receive word from their perpetually-unhappy sister (Bob’s twin) in rural Maine that her son is charged with a hate crime. This is the driving narrative, but that backstory is never far behind.

Strout has created a novel full of multiple layers, but not different versions. She provides snapshots of what happens in real life. Some are faded, some in black and white. The characters are heartbreaking in their deception, confusions and naiveté. Unlike Olive Kittridge which was a collection of connections among its characters, The Burgess Boys focuses on a family’s past and present, along with its shortcomings.

 The Burgess Boys
Three-and-a-half Bookmarks
Random House, 2013
337 pages

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