Elegant en refined, that came into my mind after having read The Burgess Boys. Strout subtly puts her finger on the hypocrisy in society and shows what effect unexpected events can have on life. Jim, Bob and Zach are the Burgess Boys. Jim and Bob have fled their home town Shirley Falls and have moved to New York. Jim has built a successful career, towards the end of the novel the cracks in his life start showing however. Bob is socially less successful, he still suffers from the trauma that he accidentally killed his own father. Eventually he turns out to be the person who – in a modest way – is doing well and who people like. Zach is their insecure nephew who shocks his town by throwing a pig’s head into the Somali mosque. His uncles come to his rescue when politicians, social workers and Somalians cry out for a trial. Jim is that wrought up in his career that he only deteriorates things for Zach; Bob, though judged to be useless by his brother, turns out to be the more stable factor. At first I wondered why Strout also introduced Abdikarim Ahmed, one of the Somalis. His life story might contrast with that of the Burgess Boys but did not really contribute a lot at first. Then it turns out that Abdikarim is the one person who saves Zach from a trial. When he looks at the boy he does not see the person responsible for a hate crime but an uncertain scared little boy.
Burgess subtly changes between Shirley Falls, New York, Zach’s mother Susan, Bob, Abdikarim, Jim and his wife Helen. In doing so she beautifully portraits the people and the harshness of life both in a small town and in the big city. At the end the book in which everything threatens to go dreadfully wrong ends in hope. Bob will find happiness with a new love, Zach can start living his life, Susan starts looking around for new things to do in Shirley Falls and Jim might get a second chance.