There are some stories which are gut wrenching. There are some truths which are so disturbing that we always prefer to overlook or have a toned down version of it. Shuggie Bain is a story which lays bare some of these unsettling truths. Truths about substance abuse, sexual abuse, rape, bullying are unflinchingly narrated by Douglas Stuart through the story of Shuggie and his mother Agnes. Agnes struggles with alcoholism and is unable to accept her own misery. The addiction makes her succumb to random men for sexual and at times emotional gratification. But the men view Agnes as an addict and promiscuous woman, and treat her with condescension. Many of them rape her, sexually molest her. Shuggie becomes a witness to these horrid incidents in his own home. Throughout his growing up, he only sees his mother descending into depravity and denial; but he still hopes the best for her. He takes it upon himself to make her well.
The book can be difficult to read, especially the instances of Agnes hell bent on destroying herself. The apathy for her own self makes her sabotage all the relationships with her loved ones including the one with Shuggie. At the same time, Shuggie is struggling to cope up with his love for his mother and always wondering why his love isn’t enough for her. He also comes to terms with his sexuality albeit the toxic masculinity that engulfs him.
The book, winner of 2020 Booker Prize, is written in Scottish English which took me a while to get used to. But I applaud the writer for keeping it so real, whether it’s the language or the adversities. I found this book challenging to read, because it was seeped in doom. We are used to seeing silver linings and redemptions but at times, doom is an eternal verity. Sigh.
~ JUST A GAY BOY. 😭