River City Reading

Helping readers of literary, contemporary and historical fiction find their next great book.
The Burgess Boys - Elizabeth Strout I had reservations about reading The Burgess Boys before starting, mostly because I feared it would be a little too whitewashed and lack the edge or quirkiness I usually like in the novels I read. Still, I didn't want to shut out a book that was getting good buzz because of preconceptions I might have about it.

The novel alternates between New York City, the current home of Jim and Bob Burgess, and the small Maine town of Shirley Falls, where they grew up and left behind their sister, Susan. The siblings are brought together when Susan's awkward and lonely son is accused of committing a hate crime, sending the town of Shirley Falls and the Burgess family down paths they never intended to take.

Many people have complaints about novels when they can't find redeeming qualities in any of the characters or can't relate to anyone. I'm not one of those people. I'm totally fine reading a book where I hate everyone...if I find the characters to be interesting. Unfortunately, my reservations were mostly right and that wasn't the case with The Burgess Boys. Almost every character was a textbook stereotype; so much so that I almost found myself cringing when Strout's plot dug the characters deeper into their stereotypical roles (ugh, Jim).

The only character that seems to break from that mold is the Somali leader, Abdikarim, who gives background on the community and its opinion on the hate crime in a few sections. This is where I feel Strout missed a chance to really take this novel to a different place. Rather than dedicating time to Bob's ex-wife Pam, which seems out of place, I would have rather seen more from Abdikarim or other Somali voices to bring more balance to the novel.

I can, however, see how Elizabeth Strout could have won a Pulitzer Prize for Olive Kitteridge, though I haven't read it. Her writing does have an easy, flowing style to it that is very appealing. With this being such a character driven story, I think reviews are going to depend heavily on how each person interprets everyone in the novel. For me, I've seen them all before.

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