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Review: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout

The Burgess Boys isn’t my favourite Elizabeth Strout novel by any stretch, but it certainly has its moments, particularly when addressing the onset of late middle age:

“So she lay awake at night and at times there was a curious peacefulness to this, the darkness warm as though the deep violet duvet held its colour unseen, wrapping around Pam some soothing aspect of her youth, as her mind wandered over a life that felt puzzlingly long; she experienced a quiet surprise that so many lifetimes could be fit into one.”

The gist of the story is a complicated familial relationship between three siblings.  When Bob becomes estranged from his beloved big brother, he is devastated at first. “But Bob was not a young man, and he knew about loss.  He knew the quiet that had arrived, the blinding force of panic, and he knew too that each loss brought with it some odd, barely acknowledged sense of release.  He was not an especially contemplative person, and he did not dwell on this.  But by October there were many days when the swell of rightness, loose-limbedness, and gentle gravity came to him.  It recalled to him being a child, when he found one day he could finally colour within the lines.”

Toward the end of the novel, Bob is attempting to rescue his older brother Jim from his self imposed exile, Jim says

“Some of us are secretly in love with destruction.  That’s what I think.”

I think so too.

And in The Burgess Boys, Strout explores the randomness of such destruction in one American family.

— JoAnn McCaig