SPOILER ALERT: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOLERS! I am including this entry from my personal journal in May for Sam Bishop’s When Are You Reading 2018 Challenge.
Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar
Rating: 5 stars
Finished reading: May 24, 2018
This morning I finished reading Everybody’s Son by Thrity Umrigar. I give it 5 stars for its insightful presentation of the dilemmas of race, class, and politics in our society. Chapter 40 (the last chapter) is the best – a culmination of everything, I guess.
The story starts with Anton, a 9-year-old mixed race boy, trapped in a hot apartment during a heat wave. He doesn’t know his father or even who he is; his mother left to buy crack from her dealer, saying she’d be back in half an hour, locking the door from the outside, presumably to protect her son. But she doesn’t come back and after a week, he breaks out of the apartment by hurling a chair through the window, climbs out and cuts his leg on the jagged glass.
He limps down the street, looking for help, looking for his mam. He is picked up by authorities and taken to Children’s Services. He is placed in foster families – the first one doesn’t work out, but the second one is a childless white couple who lost their teenage son five years before in a car accident. They take in Anton and grow to love him. David (the father) is a judge with considerable influence in the community.
Meanwhile, Anton’s mam is arrested when she is found in a crack house. She apparently had been raped by her dealer who then kept her high and semi-conscious for several days. Whenever she was conscious, she asked after her “baby boy.”
Anton is eventually adopted by the white couple and grows up with every advantage of an upper-middle class family. But to do so, David pulls some strings to extend Anton’s mam’s prison sentence and then persuades her to give him up altogether. Anton goes to Harvard Law School and becomes a judge himself. Eventually he wins election to Attorney General of the state and runs for governor.
The author presents the dilemmas of race and class as Anton goes through his life, occasionally clashing against racial stereotypes, emotional traumas and activism, the stresses of a political career, and eventually when he goes to Georgia to look for his birth mother. In the South, he encounters racism as he never had experienced before growing up in the Northeast, and finds out who he really is. In a way, one could say this is a coming of age story.
The story is written primarily in 3rd person singular, mostly Anton’s point of view, but one chapter – the one about 9/11/2001 is written in 3rd person plural, conveying a collectiveness, a unity in what Americans of all races and classes felt on that day. Another short chapter is only one sentence – using “after” as a separation and linking of clauses, giving a feeling that the events happened very fast.
Good quote: (p. 298) “But now he knew the truth. There were no adults. There were just tall children stumbling around the world, walking pools of unfinished hopes, unmet needs, and seething desires. The unsuccessful ones ended up in asylums. The ones who learned to masquerade those needs became politicians.”