If you loved Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, then prepare yourself for Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart.
Douglas Stuart’s mastery of tempo, tone and detailed description produces physical reactions whilst reading.
There are many stories about poverty and alcoholism. Families on any given street in any given country and from all walks of life could fill your ear with tales of sadness and hopelessness as well as with examples of fierce strength and resourcefulness. Some may turn into success stories, others turn out okay, but more often than not pain, shame and anger are on constant rotation.
It is this incessant vicious cycle that drives the daily life of Shuggie’s family in the slums of Scotland.
A devastated landscape is the backdrop that, admirably written, mirrors the lives of its inhabitants. The frank Scottish manner and humor is present, as is the survival instinct of humankind (in any way shape or form) from page one.
Also from the get go, the author ably takes charge of our emotional journey; lifting us up on a glimmer of hope only to have us free fall to rock bottom, with jolts of the really awful along the way.
The complicated contradiction that is family fiercely protecting their own while paradoxically allowing the worst to happen to their beloved, is dutifully written.
You will meet despicably sick people, and some of the situations the young protagonist innocently finds himself in are downright difficult to stomach (I cried and swore and hoped and hoped for Shuggie’s future). That is how invested you will become in this beautifully crafted work.
Last night during a thunderstorm, the kind only torrid summers can produce, with lights flicking on and off I finished Shuggie’s story. I will reread this book again because in all its heart wrenching, infuriating and brutal honesty it also reads as a labor of love to family; specifically between a mother and her youngest son. Such loyalty and patience, such hope in the face of relentless repetitive bad day after bad day, such tireless head held high pride and resistance will inspire.
Shuggie is needy, loving, trusting, courageous and afraid, strong and weak, curious and naive, trying to figure things out pretty much alone; in short, a complicated real little boy who finds himself thrust into a situation wherein he has no control, but nonetheless must take control in order to survive.
A definite keeper and in my opinion, an UNPUTDOWNABLE!