Shuggie Bain was the Booker Prize winner for 2020. I bought the Audible fairly early because I knew the Booker Prize Reading Group would be reading it. Still, I really kind of didn’t want to read it. For some reason I had it in my head that it was similar to Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, a Short Lister from 2015. That was a really rough book for me.
******* Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart 2020 / read by Angus King 17h 30m rating: 8.5 / contemp fiction – Scotland *******
Shuggie Bain is a little like Hanya Yanagihara’s A Short Life in a couple ways, but it’s not got the ugly roughness – the horrible stuff. Instead in the middle of poverty and alcoholism it has a lot of love and acceptance.
After we meet Shuggie in a frame story in which although still a teenager, he has left home and is living on his own. Within the story itself he starts off at 5 years old and dealing with an alcoholic mother and an older brother while his sister has left home. His parents are not getting on too well because Dad works nights and has adulterous affairs.
We follow this dysfunctional family for about ten years during which time Shuggie slowly realizes he is different from other boys and is teased for it. Also his mother struggles with men and her alcoholism in different ways but in the long run she gets worse,
The alcoholism is presented very realistically as is the plight of Shuggie struggling with friends and school life vs home life. The story is tragic, not gritty. But it does get a bit explicit in some places.
I was disappointed in this book up until about half way when it started to slowly gather some steam. After that I’d got accustomed to the pace and the way the story unfolded with tenderness and occasional lyricism. This might be my best for the month although …