Elizabeth Strout's "The Burgess Boys" & Spiced Tilapia
When I first read Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Olive Kitteridge, I was surprised and touched by the astute depictions of family relationships, secrecy, and human understanding. Her latest book, The Burgess Boys, likewise delves into a fictitious town littered with family secrets, sibling rivalry, and the tension of immigration. The novel weaves through a set of siblings’ adult marriages as a backdrop to their relationships as siblings during a family crisis.
Haunted by the accident that killed their father when they were young, two brothers, Jim and Bob Burgess, leave their hometown in Maine for New York City. When their sister Susan calls them back to Shirley Falls, Maine, to help her because her son is arrested and charged with a hate crime, the brothers are caught in the world of their childhood. There, they are taken back through the tensions that shaped their childhood and shadow their relationship.
In the months that follow, Bob and Jim, both lawyers, return again and again to Shirley Falls to straighten out the mess. Their town is a resettlement area for Somali refugees, and their nephew Zach, fatherless and friendless, takes out his feelings by rolling a frozen, bloody pig’s head through the door of a mosque during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Needless to say the monumental offensiveness and ignorance of his action distresses the Somali community.
Yet the legal drama is merely a platform for Strout’s exploration of large topics that range the politics of immigration, the possibility of second chances, and the complexity of family relationships. Although the novel is messy at times, it rings true on many levels.
Perhaps Strout’s greatest gift is her attention to detail, to single moments that assign a lifetime of weight and fragility to family relationships. Her nuanced understanding of the long-term effect of guilt and lies, of people's motives and intentions, creates a world that is stunningly real and unforgettable.
This tilapia is full of complex flavor made from simple ingredients. Like the novel, it is at
once surprisingly full of depth and attention to detail. This fish is perfect for a summer
dinner under the stars.
- 5 to 6 tilapia filets
- 1 potato
- 3 full celery sticks
- 1 yellow or orange pepper
- 1 tomato
- 2 carrots
- 3 to 4 sprigs cilantro and parsley
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lime
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon sumac
Chop the potato longways in half, then in half again longways, and then cut the halves into
Chop the peppers into long strips.
Chop the tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and celery into small pieces.
Chop parsley and cilantro finely.
Toss vegetables and fish filets in a bowl.
Squeeze the juice of one lime over the vegetable and fish mixture.
Add spices (to taste) and olive oil to the mixture.
Toss vegetables, spices, and filets together.
Grease a 9x 13" Pyrex dish with olive oil.
Place the filet, vegetable and spice mixture in the pan and spread evenly.
Bake at 375ºF for 45 to 50 minutes, until cooked through.