I have read the 66th book for the book challenge. It was The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout.
Jim Burgess is a high-power lawyer in Brooklyn. His brother Bob is an appeals lawyer, who has always been in Jim’s shadow, ever since they were children in Shirley Falls, Maine. Their sister Susan, Bob’s twin, still lives with her son Zach in Shirley Falls. Jim’s big claim to fame, while he now handles white-collar crime, was the defense trial of Wally Packer, accused of murder some years ago. He was able to get an acquittal for Packer and songs were written about the trial.
Bob receives a frantic call from Susan. Zach is in trouble. Zach threw a pig’s head into a Somali mosque in Shirley Falls. He has not been arrested; no one knows he did it, but there is a huge uproar in the community. It is being looked at as a hate crime, a crime of intolerance toward the Somali community. Zach doesn’t know why he did it. He says it was a joke. He didn’t know that pigs where so awful to Muslims. A little boy in the mosque fainted. The mosque had to be cleaned and purified. Bob says he will contact Jim and that Zach has to turn himself in. Bob will go to Shirley Falls to help with the arraignment.
Zach turns himself in. He is vilified. Bob takes Jim’s car to Shirley Falls and stays on Susan’s couch. She barely has food in the house. Zach is very upset and won’t talk about the incident. Bob tells him to go to work and just to behave. But a photo of him appears coming out of the police station smiling and there is another uproar. Bob goes to buy food at a convenience store and nearly hits a Somali woman. He is freaked by this, and flies home, leaving Jim’s car in Maine.
Jim and Bob make arrangements to go to Maine for a rally to promote tolerance after Jim goes on vacation to the islands with his partner and his wife. He is in contact with Bob and Susan during the vacation and has little tolerance for them. Zach loses his job. Jim and Bob fly to Maine. They take Zach to a hotel for the rally. Jim makes a speech at the rally but does not stay to listen to the governor’s speech.
Zach’s hearing will be held in June (it is now January) but the state’s attorney decides to file a civil right’s violation against Zach. Jim is livid with the state’s attorney. He knows she is doing it just to spite him. At the hearing, Zach is told that he must stay away from the Somali community and behave for one year. He is scared. Then the federal people indicate that they may file federal hate crime charges. Zach disappears.
Susan is distraught. Jim and Bob try to calm her down. Bob and Jim have their own issues. Bob is still in Jim’s shadow. Helen, Jim’s wife, tries to get Bob to come around more to see Bob and get Jim to relax. Their children are now all off at school and she is feeling the empty nest. Bob is feeling the loss of his wife Pam, who has since remarried, but has been thinking a lot of Shirley Falls.
Zach is finally located with his father in Sweden. He couldn’t face going to trial for a hate crime. The charges of a hate crime are dropped and finally the charges of the misdemeanor are also dropped. Zach has no charges hanging over him. He can come home if he wants to, but he is volunteering at a hospital in Sweden and is doing quite well there. In a twist, a leader in the Somali community becomes an advocate for Zach.
Susan is also getting on with life in Shirley Falls. She has taken in a boarder and is taking classes and has taken up knitting. She is getting out more. She has kept in touch with Bob. Zach comes home for a visit and Jim and Bob go to visit him.
Jim tells Bob a secret. Bob believes that he had released the hand brake of the car that rolled over their father and killed him when Bob was a child of four. But Jim tells Bob that it was really he, Jim, who released the brake and blamed it on Bob. Jim was eight at the time. He pushed Bob into the front seat after he did it and blamed Bob. Bob doesn’t believe him.
Bob moves to a new apartment, from Brooklyn to Manhattan. Jim has a crisis. He is being sued for sexual harassment by a paralegal in his office with whom he had an affair and his office has let him go. He doesn’t tell Helen that he has been fired but spends his days in the library and Helen thinks he is looking for office space to start his own firm. He finally tells her the truth and she throws him out. He moves to upstate New York to begin teaching at a small college.
Bob finds Jim at the small college. He is a mess. Bob takes Jim back to Shirley Falls to be with Susan for a reunion, a sort of homecoming for the three of them. He tells Jim he must beg Helen to take him back. Will it work?
This is a great book. It is a book about relationships, about family. The Burgess family is small, only Jim, Bob, and Susan. But the relations between and among these three people are very complex and are deeply rooted. The relationship between Jim and Helen is a troubled one, appearing to be smooth on the surface but Jim has made it troubled by his cheating and his inattention to Helen. Bob still cares for Pam, and Pam for Bob in some ways. Everyone is concerned for Zach and his well-being and they all rally around him with his problems in Shirley Falls. This story shows how the family dynamics from long ago can continue even into the present day.