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The Burgess Boys: A Novel | [Elizabeth Strout]

The Burgess Boys: A Novel

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan - the Burgess sibling who stayed behind - urgently calls them home.
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Audible Editor Reviews

Editors Select, March 2013 - Jim and Bob Burgess escaped their Maine hometown just as soon as they could…but now their nephew’s ‘antics’ have brought them back home where they’re forced to relive the accident that killed their father and deal with the (not-so-pretty) realities of their relationships. Elizabeth Strout won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her last book, Olive Kitteridge, which I loved, so my expectations were high for this new novel. Similar to Olive, the protagonists here aren’t necessarily likeable, but the character studies are so insightful, so raw and real, you can’t help but be drawn in – especially with Cassandra Campbell at the helm. —Diana D., Audible Editor

Publisher's Summary

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan - the Burgess sibling who stayed behind - urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with listeners long after the ausiobook is over. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art.

©2013 Elizabeth Strout (P)2013 Random House Audio

What the Critics Say

"Deeply human... Though loneliness and loss haunt these pages, Strout also supplies gentle humor and a nourishing dose of hope.” (Booklist)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.6 (582 )
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  •  
    Susianna Wisconsin 03-30-13
    Susianna Wisconsin 03-30-13 Member Since 2006

    Susianna

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Some Secrets Shouldn't be Kept"

    With apologies to Shakespeare, "some men are born sad and some men have sadness thrust upon them." Bob Burgess is one of the latter. Years ago, a freak car accident with toddler Bob in the front seat claimed the life of Bob's father. Modern psychology sometimes distinguishes guilt from shame this way: Guilt says, "What I did was bad " and Shame says "Who I am is bad." Bob could be the poster child for what happens when blame hardens into shame which results in a life that never really gets off the ground. Nevertheless, it is Bob who is the heart and soul of "The Burgess Boys." He lives his blighted life with humility, intelligence, and humor while struggling to keep his old personal demons from affecting his current relationships. Big brother Jim is a successful go getter who works hard, plays hard, and when he wants your opinion, he'll give it to you. Jim Burgess has achieved worldly success but is not the guy you trust to have your back. Just when you mentally roll your eyes convinced the author's description of Jim is veering into an obnoxious caricature, the origins of his larger-than-life personality begin to emerge. Jim begins to make sense, and this adds to our understanding of his siblings as well. Layers are peeled away as each character responds to unexpected events, and each other.

    I found this book captivating and extremely well written. The story describes what happens to the Burgess family when an impulsive, foolish act becomes a catalyst for life changes and truth telling. The characters are fantastic - very human in the best sense of the word: life bats them about, but they find enough courage and tenacity to rise above worn grooves of resignation. Even if the players in the story aren't the most likable at times, they each are worth getting to know. Strout's plot is compelling and raises complex moral questions that have no easy answers. I'm still pondering some points a day after finishing the book. Finally, narrator Cassandra Campbell is perfection. She narrates "The Burgess Boys" with warmth, intelligence and a wicked Maine accent. Ayuh.

    31 of 33 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Molly-o Seattle 06-09-13
    Molly-o Seattle 06-09-13 Member Since 2007

    English major. Love to read

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Loved, loved, loved it!"

    I wish I could read about Olive again for the first time and I am not sure there will ever be a book like that one,but Elizabeth Strout is a great storyteller and the Burgess Boys is another great example of her artistry. She has an affectionate way of drawing her characters that gives you an understanding and appreciation for them that is slowly woven into the story line. Se is a master and I was sorry when this story ended but look forward to her expertise in whatever she sets out to do in the future.

    9 of 9 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Katherine Quechee, VT, United States 04-01-13
    Katherine Quechee, VT, United States 04-01-13 Member Since 2005
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    "Maine to New York and Back"

    Elizabeth Strout gives up, ever so slowly, the secrets of the Burgess boys. While doing so, she also tells the tale of a small New England town that is experiencing an influx of imigrants from Africa. A hapless boy makes a terrible mistake, his uncles make more mistakes as they attempt to recuse him. The narration is gentle and perfect. An all together perfect read.

    7 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bryan Salt lake city, UT, United States 04-26-13
    Bryan Salt lake city, UT, United States 04-26-13 Member Since 2008
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    "Another Brilliant Exposition on Being Human"

    Elizabeth Strout has a unqiue ability to capture people as they are and as they interrelate. With the exception of Tyler's wife, who is a bit of a caricature, the characters are allowed to unfold, or devolve, in a way that feels real and whole. This book is troubling at times but is ultimately a book about how to love, understand, forgive and embrace yourself and others.

    6 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 05-08-13
    Taryn Suffern, NY, United States 05-08-13 Member Since 2005

    Addicted to Audible!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Great character analysis"

    The reason I have enjoyed all Elizabeth's Straut's books are because she is amazing at character analysis. I wonder if she has a degree in psychology? She expertly crafts a story and while she does you slowly come to understand what makes each person who they are and why they do what they do. In this book a dysfunctional family is dissected, most of the characters are quite unlikeable but we grow to understand them. You so often wonder how certain roles are "assigned" in families during childhood and continue on throughout the lives of the siblings. The Burgess boys have these assigned roles and only through a major crisis do they finally learn some difficult truths, change their assumptions about themselves and their siblings, grow emotionally and move forward. I think the narrator was excellent, she totally kept my interest. I highly recommend this book.

    12 of 13 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Kathi 03-27-13
    Kathi 03-27-13 Member Since 2010

    Love books! Classics and lighter fiction, mysteries (not too violent please :-). And selective non-fiction--whatever takes my fancy.

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    "Superb novel that will stir the reader's emotions"

    This is a book that is about two brothers, Jim and Bob, and a lifetime of agony each has suffered in his own way as a result of a childhood incident. Each has lived with unspeakable memories about a day where a terrible tragedy occurs. However, though this event brings tremendous hurt to an entire family, nobody speaks about it. One brother is sent to a therapist, but for the most part, the family pushes their pain away to get on with life.

    This story begins with their nephew Zach committing a hate crime--does he do it from intent or ignorance of what he is doing? This is the central question that underlies the entire first part of the book, and forces the brothers to face what they have run from looking at all this time.

    On another level this is such a book for our time! It addresses the question of differentness, of otherness--whether at the level of family who don't know really know each other, or cultural groups who have uneasy relationships as immigration shifts the balance of community and townspeople must come to grips with the presence of people they cannot understand.

    This portion of the book explores the way people respond to outsiders, to those who are not like themselves. The author includes the reality that the Somali immigrants who have located in a Maine town are equally suspicious and wary of the Mainers, with whom they now live, after fleeing political horrors and wars in Somalia. The book seems to point out that none of us, at base, even those comfortable with engaging with those different from themselves, are spared the conflict stirred by the challenge of some who find the presence of otherness threatening. Stepping outside the comfort zone of the known and familiar can be so terrifying that people will do all sorts of things to avoid having to adapt to new people and knowledge, even about those they thought they know the best.

    This book explores how family must come to terms with the differences, secrets, conflicted emotions and strangeness of their own members, much as the townspeople must find ways to adapt to the changes of having the Somalis enter with their different language, religion and habits.

    The author does a masterful job of depicting the intricate tapestry of love, hate, fear, emotions and reactions to having to come to terms with those they find they do not understand. This is a powerfully written book that will stir the reader with emotion as the story unfolds. There were often times when I found myself wondering, "what would I have felt or done in similar circumstances." That is the genius of this book--it engages the reader deeply, and forces us all to examine our own assumptions and beliefs, as well as telling a deeply moving story. I cannot recommend reading it highly enough. I only wish I could give it 6 stars!

    15 of 17 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Indio, CA, United States 04-05-13
    Jean Indio, CA, United States 04-05-13 Member Since 2008
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    "You Will Long for a Book Group to Discuss This"
    What made the experience of listening to The Burgess Boys the most enjoyable?

    It is hard to limit my answer. There are questions about personality, ethical issues, legal problems, political perspectives, etc; lots of great stuff in this book! Perhaps what made it most enjoyable is that there were surprizing twists in the story could take as the focus went from one character to another. I would think I knew what the book was about and then it would swing to another angle.


    What did you like best about this story?

    It seemed very plausible to me. No one was completely admirable or dispicable. No one was fully predictable or fully understood. The characters are real in that we don't always know what someone else will do. Even though we learn more and more about these characters' lives, they can still surprise us.


    What about Cassandra Campbell’s performance did you like?

    I loved her Maine accents.


    If you could rename The Burgess Boys, what would you call it?

    The Burgess Family. It bothered me that the sister was not included in the title.


    9 of 10 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 03-31-13
    Jen ravenna, OH, United States 03-31-13 Member Since 2007
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    "A Three Ring Circus of Emotion"

    There's a lot going on all the time in this book. For every emotional point being currently discussed, there are three more egos and two more open story lines hanging in the air. The relationship and family events, though enjoyable and interesting, were not the highlight of this book. I found the Somali migration to Maine the riveting part of this book. How easy it was to see both sides of that emotional hot house.


    I found the two brothers in this story to be ever so annoying. Actually, so was their sister. Didn't make me want to read about them less. One of the previous reviewers wrote to save your money - I think exactly the opposite. There is a whole lot of listening in this book.

    I bet that most people that read this will love it or hate it. I'm glad I read it. I found it entertaining to the very end.

    Cassandra Campbell - she has read a great many of my previous audible purchases. I have always enjoyed her performances. This one - not so much. That first part is especially bad. I wish I could put my finger on why it was so bad. If a reader is having a hard time getting through that first gossipy part, move ahead to the first chapter. I had to go back later and listen to it over. I still see no reason for it.

    14 of 16 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Nancy Reeves 05-01-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Too slow for me..."
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Maybe the story was going to develop at some point, but I couldn't hang with it long enough to find out!


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joyce Richmond, ME, USA 05-19-13
    Joyce Richmond, ME, USA 05-19-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Love Elizabeth Strout's writing"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, and I already have.


    What was one of the most memorable moments of The Burgess Boys?

    When the woman was going to leave America and go home, the discussion of family values here in America and what she wants to return to, having family.


    What about Cassandra Campbell’s performance did you like?

    I did like it but she needs to re-record and learn the correct pronunciations of Orono and Bangor. Here in Maine we put the emphasis on first syllable of both city names. The way she pronounced Orono was particularly wrong. Why don't narrators do some research about place names??? This really bothered me.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    As I said before, the discussion about family values in America vs. those of some other countries. Also, how the Burgess family became more of a family then ever before in many years.


    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
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