Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart [in Booklist]
Seventeen-and-a-half-hours is a long, lonnnnnng commitment, and Scottish actor Angus King takes on his fellow Glaswegian Douglas Stuart’s resonating debut with meticulous devotion. While the title belongs to young Shuggie Bain, who comes of age in the poorest neighborhoods around Glasgow in the 1980s, the narrative is driven by the struggles, hopes, and failures of his glamorous mother, Agnes – “a facsimile of Elizabeth Taylor” – and the relentless consequences of her alcohol addiction-fueled devastation.
Despite the degradation and violence she endures, Agnes always manages to step outside elegantly groomed, the proud, well-spoken veneer she instills in her youngest son. While repetitive abandonment defines Agnes’ life – her philandering husband leaves, her daughter emigrates, her parents die, her longest post-marital lover won’t commit, her older son moves out – only Shuggie continues to protect, love, and forgive her again and again.
For listeners unfamiliar with Glaswegian English, King’s affecting narration might initially require careful, undistracted attention, but patience will be well-rewarded as Stuart’s family drama – a dozen years in the writing, heavy with autobiographical undertones – seeps into ears, settles into hearts, and lingers in memories.
Review: “Media,” Booklist Online, August 28, 2020
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