The Boys Are Back in Town

Carol Luers Eyman The time has come for Zachary Olson to turn himself in.

Susan knows it. Her son admits that he threw the frozen pig’s head into the mosque while Somali refugees worshiped. He thought he was pulling a prank! He’s never heard of the Muslim taboo on pork, and the butcher wasn’t selling cow heads.

“Any minute now,” she tells Gerry O’Hare, the chief of police and an ex-beau. “I’m just waiting for Bob. . . Please do not send a cop car.” Her brothers, Jim and Bob, are the Burgess Boys, both of them New York City lawyers, and they’re headed to the rescue.

The Burgess Boys

“The Burgess Boys” by Elizabeth Strout is available at the library in hardcover, large print, CD audiobook, downloadable audiobook, and e-book.

“Here’s what I think,” says Gerry. “I think we’re not having this conversation.”

But Zach’s guilt doesn’t remain under the radar for long.

Antithetical attorneys
Jimmy Burgess is a defense attorney in the style of Johnny Cochran. No one who knew him when he lived in Shirley Falls can forget how he helped the infamous Wally Packer duck murder charges.

Bobby is a Legal Aid attorney in the style of Woody Allen. When he couldn’t stomach the courtroom, he switched to appellate court, but trial work isn’t the only thing that gives him indigestion–seemingly minor events like overhearing a quarrel between two neighbors he barely knows have him heading to the liquor cabinet. And yet, when we learn about a traumatic incident from his childhood, we forgive Bobby his neurosis.

At first I took Jimmy for a good guy. Didn’t he rush up to Maine to help his sister deal with Zach’s arrest? And doesn’t Jim’s wife tell us that he treats her well, has never raised his voice to her, even when she lost her engagement-ring diamond?

But listen to him talk to Bobby. “Knucklehead” and “Slob-Dog” are just a couple of the insulting nicknames he calls his younger brother–to his face.

Humor too?
Tensions between the town’s large contingent of Somali refugees and the native Mainers are high, but all is not dark here. Humor abounds: Bob is terrified of airplanes. But when he nearly backs into a Somali pedestrian, re-inflaming Somali/Mainer animosity, he ditches the car and flies back to Brooklyn.

Jim is forever deriding Bob for crying “Oy!” when anguished, so this exchange with a woman Bob’s attracted to made me laugh out loud:

[Bob] “Did you say ‘Oy’?”

[Margaret] “I did. One of my husbands was Jewish. I picked up some expressions. He was very expressive.”

[Bob] “Have you had a lot of husbands?”

You’d think the animosity inflamed by the pig’s head incident would take center stage in this insightful novel. Instead Pulitzer-winning novelist Elizabeth Strout places it as a backdrop to the brothers’ battles. Imagine the conflicts their mother, God rest her soul, refereed when they were kids. Oy vey!

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

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