The Burgess Boys is an epic of a novel, with all kinds of themes and threads running throughout. It’s a bit of a puzzle to me why it’s named “The Burgess Boys,” since there are 2 Burgess boys and one girl in the story, but anyway. Jim, Bob, and Susan Burgess are siblings who are now middle-aged. They all have faced the inevitable troubles of life, but Susan is facing the most severe one as the novel opens. Her teenage son has thrown a pig’s head into a Somali mosque, and all heck has broken loose over that.
We see how the Burgess “kids” all respond to these difficulties. Oldest brother Jim is a hard-driving lawyer who honestly comes off most of the time as a big jerk. Younger brother Bob is a good-hearted guy who has faced troubles in life with a failed marriage and the blame for a childhood incident that is at the center of the book. And Bob’s twin Susan is divorced as well, and struggling with her son Zach.
I don’t want to say too much as it could give away parts of the plot, but much of the book anyway is watching the various characters and seeing how they respond to situations. The viewpoint shifts from one character to another, helping you get inside their heads to know them better. The writing is excellent, with passages like this one, featuring the thoughts of an elderly neighbor:
She thought of Carl and the life they had made. About her girls she did not like to think. She could not have predicted, no one can ever predict anything, that they’d have been raised at a time of protests and drugs and a war they seemed to feel no responsibility for. She pictured a dandelion gone by, the white, almost airless pieces of her family scattered so far. The key to contentment was to never ask why; she had learned that long ago.
Or Bob’s statement to Jim near the end of the story:
You have family. You have a wife who hates you. Kids who are furious with you. A brother and sister who make you insane. And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now. That’s called family.”
And that kind of sums it up. The book is full of great writing and “real” situations — nothing ties up neatly here, much like real life. There is a bit of rough language, but other than that, nothing too objectionable.
I enjoyed this book.