Saturday, April 6, 2013

Don't Judge a Book...

ISBN-10: 1400067685
ISBN-13: 9781400067688
Published: Random House, 03/26/2013
Pages: 336
Language: English
In honor of Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge, coming to give a reading at Flyleaf books tomorrow at noon, I thought I would see what all the fuss is about and check out her latest novel, The Burgess Boys. Now, I normally live and read by one very simple, succinct rule: any book that Oprah enjoys, I probably won't. There have been exceptions-- Cormac McCarthy and Zora Neale Hurston come to mind-- but, in general, I have found it to be a reliable indicator of which popular books I should avoid-- I usually prefer a much higher dragon-to-page ratio than Oprah's Book Club entries deliver. So, I entered into The Burgess Boys with no small amount of trepidation, fearing overwrought family drama and mid-life crises. Instead, I found extremely well-wrought family drama and mid-life crises.

See, it turns out that Elizabeth Strout is a really, really good writer. She can put a sentence together with the best of them, and her characterizations are piercingly accurate. The action ostensibly centers around a sort-of (it's complicated) hate crime in a fictional small town in Maine, but the book is really about the emotional fallout among the Burgesses as ancient grudges and resentments resurface among the extended family. At a slim three hundred-odd pages, Strout's novel wields a staggering emotional heft without any manufactured melodrama.

So, would I recommend it? Yes, highly, and not just to my mom (although I have recommended it to my mom). When The Burgess Boys is inevitably given the Oprah stamp of approval, I guess I'll have another title I'll have to add to my list of exceptions. If you can, make it out to the reading at Flyleaf books tomorrow-- grab a ticket in advance, there's sure to be a big crowd-- and see for yourself why Elizabeth Strout deserves every bit of the hype.

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