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Review: Strout's new novel a Maine family saga

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 25, 2013 at 1:00 pm •  Published: March 25, 2013

Strout's writing style is all her own, at times almost effortlessly fluid, with superbly rendered dialogue, sudden and unexpected bolts of humor and, just as a scene seems to be low-key, carried away by startling riffs of gripping emotion.

Many sections open with descriptions of sunlight or the deepening darkness of nightfall, as if to set the scene with a prose painting of the surroundings. These invariably are keen, lovely lines, such as this one describing the bustling Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn where Jim and Bob settled: "The autumn clouds, magnificent in their variegated darkness, were being spread apart by the wind, and great streaks of sunshine splashed down on the buildings on Seventh Avenue."

It's not clear why the narrator is a woman from the Burgess hometown in Maine, the fictional Shirley Falls, who was younger than the brothers but heard gossip about the childhood accident that killed their father. When she decides to write their story, even her mother voices doubt: "You don't know them," she said. "Nobody ever knows anyone."

Maybe so. But Strout knows and vividly evokes the territory of Maine and New York City, her characters, their inner lives and fears and — beyond the saga of a family in crisis — the healing power of mercy.