The Burgess Boys (Strout)

The school year has started, so the reading pace has slowed down. As a fan of Olive Kitteridge, I was worried about whether this book would match up. In the end, I think it’s quite good, though perhaps not as amazing as OK.

It’s interesting how the headline here is not the story. The catalyst (in the past) is that a boy, the nephew of the Burgess Boys, has, for no clear reason, rolled a pig’s head into a mosque. The catalyst (in the past) is an accident that killed the boys’ father.

What Strout really seems interested in here is the notion of family – families that are together and families that are apart. The incident with the pig’s head (nicely underplayed) stirs things up in Shirley Falls, Maine, the hometown that the two boys (though not their sister, the mother of the boy) have left behind for New York.

Strout does well to get into the heads of so many characters, particularly Bob Burgess. He feels so familiar. She is great at the careful, self-aware detail. She uses simple language that becomes so powerful because of her directness. She’s also great at the disorientation involved in experiencing a change of place.

She may have been a bit more ambitious than the 320 pages allowed, but no harm is done. There’s enough in each perspective to indicate that there are many stories here.


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