A WRITER'S WIT
My Book World
I greatly admire Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Olive Kitteridge, primarily for her extraordinary ability to develop fascinating yet everyday characters, people like us, who, if pushed, might be transformed into someone else, someone unmanageable, someone unimaginable—flawed characters whom we both love and detest before we’ve finished reading the book, rather like people in our lives whom we both love and detest.
In The Burgess Boys three adult children having grown up in the same home, yet each with a different childhood to show for it, are thrown together once again when Susan’s son, Zachary, tosses a frozen pig’s head through a mosque window in their small New England town of Shirley Falls. “During prayer. During Ramadan”(19). Yikes.
Brothers Jim and Bob, who both live in New York City, return to see if they can be of help. And, in fact, this event sets in motion a study of what can happen to siblings who experience a childhood trauma and never really work through it, comprehend it, because life moves on, quickly trying to return itself to a normalcy that can’t really occur until all have resolved their problems.
Sprout carries her understanding even farther by getting inside the head of Abdikarim, a key Muslim resident of Shirley Falls:
“And he felt too old to learn English. Without that, he lived with the constancy of incomprehension. In the post office last month he had mimed and pointed to a square white box, the woman in her blue shirt repeating and repeating and he did not know and everyone in the post office knew and finally a man came to him and crossed his arms quickly toward the floor, saying, ‘Fini!’ And so Abdikarim thought the post office was finished with him and he must go and he did go. Later he found out the post office was out of the boxes they had sitting on the shelf with price tags on them. Why did they show them if they did not have them to sell? Again, the incomprehension. He came to understand this had a danger altogether different from the dangers in the camp. Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched incompre- hension—they did not comprehend, he did not comprehend—gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something in him, always he felt unsure of what he wanted, what he thought, even what he felt” (94).
NEXT TIME: New Yorker Fiction 2015
Date of Original Post:
11/13/14 — Introduction to My Long-Playing Records
11/20/14 — "My Long-Playing Records" — The Story
11/27/14 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
12/04/14 — "Ghost Riders"
12/11/14 — "The Best Mud"
12/18/14 — "Handy to Some"
12/25/14 — "Blight"
01/01/15 — "A Gambler's Debt"
01/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
01/15/15 — "Men at Sea"
01/22/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"
01/29/15 — "Engineer"
02/05/15 — "Snarked"
02/12/15 — "Killing Lorenzo"
02/19/15 — "The Age I Am Now"
02/26/15 — "Bathed in Pink"
03/12/15 — "A Certain Kind of Mischief"
03/26/15 — "The Best Mud"
04/02/15 — "Handy to Some"
04/09/15 — "Tales of the Millerettes"
04/16/15 — "Men at Sea"
04/23/15 — "My Long-Playing Records"
04/30/15 — "Basketball Is Not a Drug"
05/07/15 — "Snarked"
05/21/15 — "Killing Lorenzo"
05/28/15 — "Bathed in Pink"
Watch for more podcasts later this summer!