I picked this novel (Random House, 2013) up at the library while in the midst of reading another, and I'm glad I did. Taking a break from The Lacuna brought me back to it eagerly after I savored every minute with Bob Burgess and his people. While I had read author Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer-winning Olive Kitteredge, that collection of linked stories didn't grab me the way this tale did. And despite its familial focus echoing the last novel I finished, The Burgess Boys takes place over years rather than a weekend, and ranges in location from NYC to tiny Shirley Falls, Maine, with a few other stops afield. I read a review that described the book's voice as "close third-person," which I can't recall hearing used before, but I like how aptly it decribes the way Strout takes us inside some characters heads, but not everyone's. Ultimately, younger brother Bob is the central focus, but we get to know his twin, his ex, and his sister-in-law. Also the Somali immigrant Abdikarim. Squirrely sibling Jim, not so much. The Burgess Boys opens with a conceit of a first-person narrator laying out an overview of the story, which may have helped to engage this reader; I can't un-read it and imagine starting the saga blind. We all belong to families, and taking an inside look at this one increased my appreciation for my own, while entertaining me well for a few weeks this summer.
Superlatives: Character I'd most like to hang with: Margaret Estaver. Character I'd most like to hear more from: Zach. Most honest character: Bob. Most caricatured character: That lady who lives upstairs at Susan's (can't remember her name). Most throwaway character: Pam (but not really).
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.