THE BURGESS BOYS
By Elizabeth Strout
Random House, 2013
320 pages, $26
Comic Jerry Seinfeld once quipped: “There is no such thing as fun for the whole family.” He must have been referring to the Burgess clan in Elizabeth Strout’s new novel, “The Burgess Boys.”
This is Maine author Strout’s fourth novel, following her Pulitzer Prize-winning fiction, “Olive Kitteridge” in 2009. As a best-selling author, Strout has a solid and well-deserved reputation as a powerful and evocative storyteller, best known for her graphic portrayals of people in emotional and painful family situations.
The Burgess boys are Jim and Bob, both New York City lawyers. Jim is a high-priced, smarmy, arrogant defense attorney in love with his celebrity status, never missing an opportunity to insult and embarrass his younger brother, Bob. Bob is a laid-back, underachieving legal aid attorney who drinks too much and suffers under the weight of a family tragedy years ago. Despite Jim’s constant abuse, Bob idolizes his older brother.
The Burgess boys are from Shirley Falls, Maine, glad to be away from that poor, shabby town where their sister, Susan, a divorced single mother still lives in a run-down house with her teenage son, Zach.
The lawyers are reluctantly pulled back to Shirley Falls when their nephew is arrested for a hate crime and civil rights violation, throwing a pig’s head into a Muslim mosque (think Lewiston in 2006). The uncomfortable reunion of the three siblings is not pleasant — certainly not family fun — as guilt, bitterness and petty rivalries resurface and dominate their words and deeds.
Zach is in real trouble, but Bob doesn’t know what to do, Jim is only worried about how this will affect his reputation and Susan wrings her hands in self-pity. The story has an element of a happy ending, but Jim says it best: “Some of us are secretly in love with destruction.”
FIN GALL: A NOVEL OF VIKING AGE IRELAND
By James L. Nelson
Create Space Independent Publishing, 2012
281 pages, $12.99
If readers of historical fiction think Bernard Cornwell is the master of medieval sword and shield adventures, they just haven’t read James Nelson lately. Move over, Bernie.
Harpswell writer James Nelson is an award-winning author of 17 works of non-fiction history and swashbuckling historical fiction. He has written about pirates, 18th-century naval warfare, the American Revolution and the Civil War. Now, however, he begins a new fiction series about Vikings in the 9th century.
FIN GALL (which is Gaelic for White Strangers, Vikings of Norwegian descent) is the first book in an expected series featuring Norwegian Vikings, Danes, Celts and Irishmen fighting each other and among themselves in 852 A.D., raiding, pillaging and trading for dominance of the British Isles.
Much like Cornwell, Nelson spins a carefully woven tale of medieval warfare complete with royal conspiracies, treachery and betrayal — and all the bloody violence of those times — in vividly colorful and accurate historical detail.
Viking warrior Thorgrim Night Wolf and his son, Harald, go on a Viking raiding voyage to Ireland seeking riches and excitement. While enroute, their longship captures an Irish nobleman’s vessel on a secret mission carrying the Crown of the Three Kingdoms, an ancient relic said to inspire the Irish to rise up and expel the Norsemen and Danish invaders.
This unexpected discovery initiates a desperate, vicious pursuit by rival Irish kings, murderous Danes and cold-blooded traitors, all selfishly seeking the crown’s power no matter how many lives it costs — and Thorgrim’s Vikings are caught in the middle.
The fast-paced, graphic and gory tale is a wild melee of battles, ambushes, murders, deceit and double-cross, capture, torture and escape, revealing just how harsh and tenuous life is where courage, honor, plunder and disputes are settled with sword, spear and battleaxe, and no mercy is given or expected.
— Bill Bushnell lives and writes in Harpswell.