Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart [8/10]

Shuggie Bain” is a scorching tour de force, a coming-of-age novel centered on a Scottish boy awash in the ruins of his pretty, refined mother’s alcoholism. In the early 80s, Shuggie grows up amidst the descent into poverty of his family: wayward taxi driver Shug, who abandons them; Agnes, forced from Glasgow into the dire hell of a mining town and descending into the bottle; spirited sister Catherine; and beleagured brother Leek. It’s the youngest, Shuggie, the most sensitive and imaginative of them all, who comes to love his mother deepest and longest, and the novel is the author’s keening paean to that devotion and love. In lush yet devastating prose, the novel sweeps us onward through a grim, grim saga that somehow lifts us up, lifts us up just as I recall Cormac McCarthy’s The Road doing all those years ago. Shuggie Bain is a bleak journey but it is among the most powerful books I have read this year.

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