If you got here because I commented and you were directed to this blog, it is because Blogger will not show both blogs. So you can get to my Pat's Posts, by clicking this miscellany, the first blog while this is just about books.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Burgess Boys; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

When I read that  Elizabeth Strout's newest book was out, I knew I would want to read it and there it was in Barnes and Noble, as I was passing through on  the day I had received an extra 15% off coupon, which meant a full 55% off the price,  What a bargain, being a "book drunkard" how could I resist?   Newly released, published by Random House 2013, 320 pages, and being a new book in hardback.  I read it in 4 evenings and felt disappointed by the ending, where we are left to imagine once again what happens but these characters are again memorable.  As I reread my review about "Olive Kitteridge"  I see I  was ambivalent about that ending, too, but in "The Burgess Boys", I felt like shouting, "Hey wait a minute what happens to the rest of it?  What about Jim?"  

This novel comes sans reader's guide, likely because it's too new.  The novel tells the story of the Burgess family, two brothers Jim and Bob and a sister, Susie.  Bob and Susie are twins but Jim the eldest is the high achiever and the apple of the eyes of all.  They grow up in Maine but the brothers leave for New York, Sue stays behind.  All are haunted in their own way all through life by the fatal accident that takes their father when they are young tots.  But when Zack, Sue's son commits an outrageous act toward the Somalis who have  been settled in their small Maine town, the plot heats and thickens and the brothers, both attorneys, are called  back to help.  Jim is the achiever of the three, big time successful corporate  attorney in a prestigious law firm, living the good life, married to the wealthy Helen, with a perfect family, now an empty nest. Jim ultimately has a typical mid life crisis.   Bob has done OK despite two divorces but he is the more withdrawn less ostentatious  brother, the one who lives in Jim's shadow, the Legal Aid attorney. Bob has a cordial relationship with  his  ex wife Pam Carlson in her new marriage with her two sons who treat him as an uncle.   While Sue is the withdrawn, somewhat  neurotic single mother, clinging to her son and then unable to manage or cope when Zack gets into trouble. She rents out room to Mrs. Drinkwater, an eaves dropping older lady who becomes a savior for Sue.  

 I was drawn into the description of settlement of Somali's in Maine because that happened in MN as well in St. Paul, Minneapolis and even Rochester area and  one Maine Somali character is  said  to have  gone to Minnesota where the atmosphere was more welcoming and life would be better.  That the  Somalis are Muslim adds another layer to their acceptance or not in the community while paralleling immigrants and their concerns.  One Somali, character Abdikarim becomes more prominent toward the end of the story. 

As in her other works, the characters are intriguing and the writing abounds with witty quotes and phrases worth underlining.  

Page 94, about Abdikarim,  demonstrates her skill at describing feelings of immigrants and while the situation borders on the humorous, there is a tragic depth...."He felt too old to learn English.  Without that, he lived with constancy of incomprehension.  In the post office last month he had mimed and pointed to a square white box, the woman in her blue shirt repeating and repeating and he did not know and everyone in the post office knew and finally a man came to him and crossed his arms quickly toward the floor, saying "Fini!"  And so Abdikarim thought the post office was finished with him and he must go and he did go.  Later he found out  the post office was out of the boxes they had sitting o the shelf with price tags on them.  Why did they show them if they did not have them to sell?  Again the incomprehension......Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched incomprehension--gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something in him,...."   

Page 4....about  Unitarians...."My mother did not like Unitarians; she thought they were atheists who didn't want to be left out of the fun of Christmas, but ...".    

page 182..."..because friends faked it with each other all the time, it's how society existed... .....Helen crossed her legs feeling how her black pantyhose  had become twisted at the thighs, no doubt from having to pull them up quickly in the stall as the gong rang out its warning.  What had the feminists accomplished, she thought, if women still had to wait twice as long in ladies' room lines?" 

page 222..."The key to contentment was to never ask why; she had learned that long ago."

page 311...Bob's response to Jim who asks what to do because now he has no family, .."You have family......a wife who hates you.  Kids who are furious with you.  A brother and sister who make you insane.  And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now.  That's called family."    That demonstrates that soap opera families and the Walton's are not real family today.  I found that truthful and comical.  

Poignant, comical and thought provoking,  all adjectives for The Burgess Boys.  "Literary art" is a very appropriate tag for this book. This is a 5 star book *****

Here's my review, from my other blog March 10, 2010  Olive Kitteridge

I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, 270 pages + Reader's Guide, paperback, published by Random House in 2008,  last month but  have not had time to post my review.  My cousin, Carol, recommended it because I absolutely adored  "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."   In a way Olive is similar but  still very different.   My final verdict on this book though, is uncertain.  I did enjoy reading it and noted several phrases but didn't like the ending.  The  descriptive writing is outstanding, but a peculiar darkness  seeps in at times.  The link to this post indicates that this won a 2009 Pulitzer; a merited achievement.   While the main character is Olive, a  mathematics school teacher in Maine in her  sixty's, the novel  looks back over the area and features  short tales about many characters.   I kept waiting for Olive to appear prominently  or heroically in each story but that was not the way it happened, sometimes she was annoying but each character, in turn, reveals more about Olive's character and the area. the town, the times, and above all the choices people make.  I am not sure whether I admired or pitied Olive.   The book is a significant  commentary about people, aging and life;  perhaps on the more quiet morose side, but certainly from Olive's eyes with many memorable lines.   I love the description of hope.  Actually I highlighted many lines in the book

Pg. 35,   "Does everybody know everything?......Oh, sure, what else is there to do?"

Pg. 60.  "..that must be the way of life, to figure something out when it's too late..."

Pg. 122.  "..when the years behind you are more than the years in front of you...."

Pg. 125  " picked up speed, then  most of it was gone..."
Pg. 126   " of the things about getting older, so many moments weren't moments but gifts...."
Pg. 162  "..quietly, joyful....Most people did not know enough when they were living life, that
they were living it..."

Pg. 203  " hope...The inner churning that moves you forward...."

And in  the  beginning of the book, a comment on pg. 33 while Kevin looks back at his childhood home, "States and traits....Traits don't change,  states of mind do."   That stuck with me, confirming that  often there is nothing to be done;  things about a person that  cannot ever change no matter what influences are pressed on the person.   No manipulation or intrusion by someone else really changes traits. Distinguishing wisely and truthfully accepting traits is part of the wisdom we can gain on our life journey.   

Olive Kitteridge is a book to ponder on, especially the  ending comparison  page 270 of two lives as Swiss cheese  slices, "..pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out of you."

PS,  when I reviewed "Olive"  I was not using my star rating.  Retroflectively I give it 5 *****

No comments:

Post a Comment