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SHUGGIE BAIN by Douglas Stuart Kirkus Star


by Douglas Stuart

Pub Date: Feb. 11th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-8021-4804-9
Publisher: Grove

Alcoholism brutally controls the destiny of a beautiful woman and her children in working-class Scotland.

The way Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting carved a permanent place in our heads and hearts for the junkies of late-1980s Edinburgh, the language, imagery, and story of fashion designer Stuart’s debut novel apotheosizes the life of the Bain family of Glasgow. Stunning, raven-haired Agnes Bain is often compared to Elizabeth Taylor. When we meet her in 1981, she’s living with her parents and three “weans” in a crowded high-rise flat in a down-and-out neighborhood called Sighthill. Her second husband, Hugh "Shug" Bain, father of her youngest, Shuggie, is a handsome taxi driver with a philandering problem that is racing alongside Agnes’ drinking problem to destroy their never-very-solid union. In indelible, patiently crafted vignettes covering the next 11 years of their lives, we watch what happens to Shuggie and his family. Stuart evokes the experience of each character with unbelievable compassion—Agnes; her mother, Lizzie; Shug; their daughter, Catherine, who flees the country the moment she can; artistically gifted older son Leek; and the baby of the family, Shuggie, bullied and outcast from toddlerhood for his effeminate walk and manner. Shuggie’s adoration of his mother is the light of his life, his compass, his faith, embodied in his ability to forgive her every time she resurrects herself from a binge: “She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.” How can love be so powerful and so helpless at the same time? Readers may get through the whole novel without breaking down—then read the first sentence of the acknowledgements and lose it. The emotional truth embodied here will crack you open.

You will never forget Shuggie Bain. Scene by scene, this book is a masterpiece.