Monday, May 20, 2013

book review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The backstory: I read Elizabeth Strout's last book, Olive Kitteridge, for book club a few years ago. I liked it, but I didn't love it, mostly because I wanted more of a novel than interconnected stories. I was curious to see how I would far with her latest novel, The Burgess Boys. Update: It was also longlisted for the 2014 Baileys Prize.

The basics: The Burgess Boys is about three adult siblings from Maine. Jim and Bob now live in Brooklyn, but Susan remains in the town where they grew up. When Susan's son Zack gets in trouble, she turns to her brothers for help.

My thoughts: What I liked most about Olive Kitteridge was Olive herself. Strout has a way of developing characters beautifully, and The Burgess Boys begin with detailed glimpses into each of the Burgesses, plus Jim's wife. The set up was glorious. I devoured Strout's writing and character building and could not bear to put this novel down. After all this set up, I was ultimately disappointed. The last half of the book fell flat for me and was laborious to get through. The plot meandered and the characters who seemed so richly developed, complicated and intriguing in the first half became less fascinating and often dull. Although the second half was both unsatisfying and not enjoyable, I still am fond of the first half of this novel. I wish that charm and fascination could have carried through the rest of the novel too.

The verdict: Strout's beautifully detailed prose and richly developed characters weren't enough to salvage the meandering second half of this novel for me.

Rating: 3 out of 5
Length: 337 pages
Publication date: March 26, 2013 
Source: publisher

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy The Burgess Boys from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle version.)

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10 comments:

  1. Sorry this one didn't work out so great. I have Olive Kitteride on my Nook and keep forgetting about it! I do tend to enjoy interconnected short stories, so I'll start there. :)

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    1. I'll be curious what you think of Olive. I loved the parts that were about her more than the ones that weren't. She's a fascinating character.

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  2. I agree completely with your review. Mine should post later today - I wanted to love this one if just for Strout's amazing ability to capture character...but it fell flat for me as well.

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    1. Wendy, I'm somewhat glad to have company--it seems all the reviews I've read are glowing. It certainly started that way for me.

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  3. I'm sorry this was so disappointing! I had heard good things about Olive Kitteredge, but I won't rush out to find this one.

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    1. I respect Strout as a writer immensely, but I haven't loved either of the two I've read. I've heard Amy and Isabelle is excellent too. I think that's my next Strout.

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  4. I agree this was disappointing, it just had no heart, and I didn't care.

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    1. I'm glad you felt the same way! So much potential, but not enough follow through.

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  5. I guess Strout's characterization and writing were enough for me. It definitely wasn't Olive Kitteridge (an all-time favorite), but I still enjoyed The Burgess Boys.

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  6. Oh no! I'm hoping that if and when I get around to reading it, I will feel differently.

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!