Born and raised in Maine, the Burgess boys have both made their careers in New York where Jim is a successful corporate lawyer and Bob a free legal aid attorney. Jim is married to Helen, Bob is divorced from Pam. Back home in Maine, their sister Susan is separated from her Swedish husband, Steve, and lives with her son, the silent, skinny Zach. When Zach gets himself into trouble placing himself at the centre of a storm involving the Somali community, Susan turns to her brothers for help. They return to Maine and initially it seems that their efforts may make matters worse for Zach. The crisis brings to the surface tensions from the Burgess siblings’ childhood that have had a lasting impact on their adult lives and there is something very mature, sensitive and tender about Strout’s depiction of the relationship between the middle-aged siblings. The Burgess Boys is a well written story with rounded, believable characters who have strengths and flaws and who grow as a result of what takes place in the novel — some, but not all, becoming better people than they were before.
The suffering of the Somali community provides another theme in The Burgess Boys and here, too, Strout challenges reader perceptions, particularly through the character of Abdikarim Ahmed who although lightly sketched is almost a mythic figure in the story.
As a middle-aged reader with siblings, I found The Burgess Boys particularly interesting for its treatment of family relationships. Overall, it is a well-written and satisfying novel that should have wide appeal.
The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout is published by Random House. ISBN 9781400067688.
Disclosure: An ARC was provided via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.