Award winners, Books

Book Review – The Burgess Boys

I am on a mission (before grad school begins) to read award winning books, like the National Book Award (remember my review of The Good Lord Bird?), the Pulitzer, and even “best of” lists from Time Magazine and National Public Radio.  The latter two will have me denounced as a liberal traitor to my more conservative friends – which might be interesting in and of itself.  (Really, some people will politicize simple things such as book lists and this drives me crazier and crazier as I get older).  But I digress.

This book, written by Pulitzer-Award winning author Elizabeth Strout, is a complicated family history.  The boys in the title are brothers Jim and Bob.  Jim is a rather famous attorney in New York, who was (at least in this bit of fiction) requested for OJ’s dream team.  Jim is working for a large law firm, and is really not very happy, as he has fallen into a bit of obscurity since his initial fifteen minutes of fame.  Bob is something of a laid-back loser.  He could not hack it as a defense attorney, so now he works on appeals.  Bob has a twin, Susan, who still lives in their hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, a town being overrun with Somali refugees.  (The book is set around 2005 or 6).  When Bob and Susan were four, and Jim was eight, their father was killed in a freak accident:  the children were in the car at the top of a hill, and Bob accidentally put it in gear.  This has left him guilt-stricken and unable to be aggressive.  Add to that, Jim treats him like a dog and Susan blatantly hates him, and Bob has feelings of no self-worth at all.

The book takes place around an event that occurred in Shirley Falls, when Susan’s son, Zach, pulls a prank that goes terribly wrong.  Zach is a social loner and has no real friends, nor a real understanding of the consequences of the prank he pulled.  The Burgess Boys rally around and try to straighten this mess out (of course), and hard feelings become harder still and all parties involved realize things are not always what they seem.  The book comes full circle and has a satisfying conclusion (to me).

The book started a little dry.  I could identify with the family members and even some of the supporting cast, but it was just a little draggy in the beginning.  About halfway through, things changed, and the book perked up, at which point, I became glued to it, and could not wait to see how these situations resolved themselves.  I would probably give it a 3 1/2 stars.

I think it is interesting to read these award winners and “best of” book lists.  I have read award winners before, of course, but not made such a concerted effort to do such.  And, as I said in my last review, I guess maybe I am missing something because this is the second book being hailed as “great” and “amazing” that I struggled with in the beginning.  This was not a “deep” book – I was not searching for meaning in the pages, but it did fall flat somewhat, leading me to wonder, “what IS it that critics are looking for and seeing?”  I shall continue on my quest and keep you guys posted.


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