‘The Burgess Boys’ by Elizabeth Strout

2013-05-20T16:52:00Z ‘The Burgess Boys’ by Elizabeth StroutReview by Juanita Sherwood JG-TC.com
May 20, 2013 4:52 pm  • 

The title has appeared in several sources as a recommended read, and it really is worth a look.

The main characters are brothers who are both attorneys. They live and work in New York City, but were originally from Shirley Falls, Maine. They had a sister Susan.

At an earlier time, when the boys were children, a tragedy had befallen the Burgess family. Their car was parked on a hill, the children were in the car, their father was behind it, and the younger son, Bob had played with the instrument panel. Somehow, he had accidentally put the car in gear, and it had rolled down the hill, striking their father and killing him.

This left the mother to raise the children on her own. She had an 8 year old, and twin 4 year olds. Bob has suffered and been treated for guilt over the years; he is now in his early fifties.

As an adult, Jim, the older son, was a famous attorney who had made a national name for himself when he successfully defended a well-known singer accused of arranging for his girlfriend to be killed. He has since made a great deal of money and works for a prestigious law firm.  

Bob, the younger brother, is also an attorney, but he has never made a lot of money.  He is kind-hearted and works for Legal Aid.  He is divorced and has no children.  

Near the beginning of the story, events set in motion will change their lives forever.  

Their sister, Susan, who still lives in Shirley Falls, calls for assistance regarding her son.  Jim and his wife are just leaving to go on a vacation with his boss and his wife.  Susan is divorced, and her ex-husband, Zach’s father, lives in Sweden.  Bob agrees to travel to assist his sister with her problem.

The troubles involve a prank that her son Zack had pulled:  during Ramadan, he rolled a frozen pig’s head into a mosque. It was starting to unthaw and left a bloody stain on the carpet, which the members of the mosque could not afford to replace.

At the time of the call, the police do not know who had done this deed, but Zack is worried about what will happen to him if and when he is found out. He has confessed to Susan, but the police are unaware so far. Both uncles urge Susan and Zach to go to the police the next day to turn himself in.

Since the incident can be viewed as a hate crime, it has drawn national attention.

Complicating things further is that the town of Shirley Falls has had a lot of Somalis move in. There is suspicion and misunderstandings between the immigrants and the locals.  The culture clash has caused difficulties all around.

Another matter that you might want to pay close attention to is one which occurs when Bob is still in his New York City apartment. He hears his neighbors below argue, which is not a new thing.  

Later, he spots the police taking away the husband in handcuffs because the wife Adriana has accused him of assaulting her.  The husband denies this, but is arrested anyway.

 Adriana confides to Bob that she is worried about losing her job as a paralegal in a small law firm.  He recommends Jim’s firm which is often hiring.

Near the end, you will be surprised when a long-believed truth is revealed as not so.

The end itself finds all of the Burgess family facing changes in their lives but up to the challenge.

Sherwood, of Charleston, is a retired reading teacher.

Copyright 2015 JG-TC.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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