The Burgess Boys, Jim and Bob, along with their sister, Susan, are a true portrait of a dysfunctional family. Susan’s son Zach, throws a pig head into a mosque and is charged with a hate crime and the family comes together to be a support system for Zach and to try to prevent Zach from going to jail.
Jim Burgess is the successful man in the family. He is a famous attorney in New York and always the one in charge. The more we get to know Jim, the more we realize he is a very angry and unhappy person. His feelings start to come out as Jim has to deal with his family and the memories that resurface from being back in his hometown. “Everything to do with this family depresses me.” “It’s all gone to crap. I’m scared. I think about death a lot. I’m grieving for myself. I’m a sham.” I am a dead man going down. It’s just a matter of time. I could not keep it up.” Buried secrets are revealed as we watch Jim unravel.
Bob Burgess is a lonely man, divorced, with no children. Bob: “Nothing lasts forever, there is nothing to be counted on.” He also lives in New York. “He thought of all the people in the world who felt they’d been saved by a city. He was one of them. Whatever darkness leaked its way in, there were always lights on in different windows here, each light like a gentle touch on his shoulder saying, “Whatever is happening, Bob Burgess, you are never alone.”
Susan Burgess is Bob’s twin. She is also divorced and lives alone with her only child, Zach. Growing up, Susan was most often the recipient of her mother’s so called jokes and disapproval. Her son, Zach, has become her whole life.
Zach is friendless, quiet, hesitant in all his actions, just not quite right. He was teased mercilessly in elementary school and beaten up in high school. Zach’s father, who often put Zach down, left while he was in high school. Zach is a lonely, fragile boy who cries and never has friends over. The hate crime he is accused of has left him even more scared and lonely.
Abdikarim is the man who was there when Zach threw the pig head into the mosque. He is an Islamic immigrant who fled from the violence in his country. He is the perfect example of what immigrants have to face in America these days. Abdikarim was a great character. “There was a heaviness inside him. It grew each passing month, to stay or go he couldn’t make that decision. He felt too old for the spring of excitement to return to him. Too old to learn English. Without that, he lived with the constancy of incomprehension. THE incomprehension was a danger. Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched in comprehension-gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something inside him. He always felt unsure of what he wanted, what he thought, even what he felt.”
This book touched on some of today’s controversial issues of immigrants and hate crimes but also explored what family really means. Elizabeth Strout is an amazing novelist. She writes beautifully.