The Burgess Boys

The Burgess Boys      By Elizabeth Strout     Review by Rae Richen

The Burgess Boys Strout cover lg

Is alliteration the only reason for a familial title that doesn’t include the sister? Thus, did the Burgess boys’ sister have to be the least interesting character in an otherwise character peppered story? Does Zach, the most interesting character in the story, have to solve his problems alone, without even the help of the author? Elizabeth Strout, you are better than this. Olive Kittredge was a lot more believable, and deserving of two reads at least.

Strout puts her fictional Burgess family in so much hot water, that only a miracle could pull them out of the stew. And a miracle is all she offers. Skinny, awkward son and nephew Zach, runs off to Dad in Sweden and nobody gets to watch what makes him come back as a solid, growing human being, and more aware of loving his family. All of Zach’s good stuff happens off stage.

The Burgess Boys is a good effort to show small town stress over immigration and the influx of people we don’t yet understand. The novel is a good effort to show the fracture lines among the immigrant groups and also within one damaged family, but too much of what happens is precipitated by coincidence and not by the characters themselves – with the exception of the self-destruction of Jim Burgess. His reconstruction, if it will happen, happens after the last page and in the imagination of his family. We sure don’t get to see any of the hard stuff occur within the story as told.