Prather’s Pick: ‘The Burgess Boys’ is beautifully written
September 10, 2013
Craig — This week's novel for adults is a must read. I started reading it when I came home from the library Thursday afternoon, read a little Friday — because I was busy — and by late Saturday afternoon, I'd read the whole thing.
"The Burgess Boys" was written by Elizabeth Strout, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Olive Kitteridge."
The book begins with a prologue that sets the stage for the novel's plot. A mother and daughter, both unnamed, have been estranged after the daughter moved to New York, but now that both women have lost their husbands, they're rekindling their relationship. The mother has remained in Shirley Falls, Maine, where she raised her family. And as the two women visit, they talk about the Burgess family.
Jim and Bob are the Burgess boys. The mother remembers Jim "because he was angry even back then and trying to control it" and Bob "because his heart was big." There is a sister Susan, too, but the mother didn't seem to like her, and apparently nobody else did, either.
Their father was killed in an accident when the children were small. He got out of the car to fix something and left the three children in the car. The car rolled, hitting the father and killing him. Talk around town was that Bobby, who was 4 years old, had been playing with the gears, causing the car to roll.
After they grew up, Jim practiced law and got his big break when he successfully defended singer Wally Packer, who allegedly paid to have his white girlfriend killed. During the trial, Jim was seen on television during newscasts, and his popularity grew. After the trial, he took a position with a law firm in Manhattan. Jim married Helen, a wealthy woman from Connecticut, and they raised a family.
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Both Jim and Bob moved to New York. Bob worked in an appellate division of legal aid. He was married to Pam.
Susan remained in Maine, married, and had a son named Zachary. Her husband left her and moved to Sweden. The townspeople have considered Zachary to be a little odd.
At the end of the prologue, the daughter tells her mother that she is going to write the story of the Burgess kids. As the novel begins, Jim, Bob and Susan are living their lives as described in the prologue. The plot, that begins in October, is told in third person.
Helen is packing for a 10-day vacation that she and Jim will take with the managing partner of the law firm and his wife. She takes two calls. One is from Bob, who wants to talk to Jim, so she invites him over. The other is from Susan, who also wants to talk to Jim, and she doesn't sound happy.
Adriana and Preppy Boy, who live below Bob in the apartment, have had an argument, and Adriana told the cops that he had hit her. The cops arrested Preppy Boy, and it bothers Bob because he thinks the man is innocent. When Jim comes home, he promises Bob that he will check into it. (Adriana figures into the novel later on.)
Jim calls Susan, who has a more serious problem. Zachary is about to be arrested. He threw a frozen pig's head through the front door of a mosque during prayers in Shirley Falls. The incident happened during Ramadan. The pig's head was starting to melt, so it was bloody and made a big mess. The papers have gotten wind of the incident and are calling it a hate crime.
Quite a large population of Somalian people has immigrated to Shirley Falls, and the Somalians don't trust the townspeople, so now the pig head incident has caused unrest.
Zachary hasn't been arrested yet. Jim thinks about how it will make him look for his nephew to be arrested.
Jim and Bob travel to Shirley Falls to help Susan and Zachary, but they have no idea what impact the trip back to their childhood home will have on their lives. There are surprises in store for the reader.
This novel is beautifully written. I think there's a message about the influence that our childhood home and family members have on our lives — forever.
"The Burgess Boys" is published by Random House (2013). The book costs $26 in hardcover. It also is a new book at the Moffat County Library.