Shuggie Bain Makes It Out
New York magazine|November 09, 2020
Out First-time novelist Douglas Stuart’s unsparing account of a life not unlike his own might be the best-reviewed book you’ve not yet read in 2020.
Matthew Schneier

SHUGGIE BAIN is now available in paperback.

SHUGGIE BAIN is 5, prissy, and precise. “We need to talk,” he tells his mother, Agnes, when the family moves to a sooty coal village on the outskirts of Glasgow. “I really do not think I can live here. It smells like cabbages and batteries. It’s simply unpossible.” Shuggie abhors everything he deems “common”; he’s the type to stamp his wee foot. He is a creature entirely out of place, a changeling who speaks like a prince. His family smells his inevitable truth, powerless as they are to stop it. “You’ll be needing that nipped in the bud,” his grandmother says. “It’s no right.”

Much is no right in the neo-Dickensian Glasgow of Shuggie Bain, a novel that seems almost more comfortable in a previous century than in our own—no metafictional contortions, no genre-dabbling. It’s a fat-doorstop trudge of perseverance through the alcoholic grimness of poverty and addiction. It is also on a very short list, amid a very dissimilar cohort, of the year’s breakout debuts, in contention for the Booker Prize and the National Book Award, both announced later this month. And because of an accident of timing—it was released right before the start of the pandemic—it might be the best-reviewed book you’ve never heard of in 2020, having had other things on your mind.

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