Witness the tragic descent of Agnes Bain through the loving eyes of her youngest son, Shuggie.
In poverty-stricken 1980s Glasgow, Agnes is the beloved daughter of hardworking Catholics. Known for her elegance and beauty, and already married with two children, she wins the heart of a charismatic taxi driver named Big Shug. Agnes, her children and Shug move in with her parents, but trouble begins after they have Shuggie. One by one, the members of Agnes’ family leave until only she and her favorite, Shuggie, remain.
During the Thatcher era, “industrial days [are] over,” and in an increasing privatized economy, miners and shipyard workers are unemployed, given to restlessness. “Out came the characters shellacked by the grey city, years of drink and rain and hope holding them in place.” Scenes of abandoned coal mines and council housing mimic the dismal mood in the Bain household. Chapters chronicle a downward spiral of drinking, fighting, fleeing, stealing, revenge, sexual aggression and parties gone awry. But a few loving encounters offer hope amid trauma: Shuggie’s big brother saves the day more than once, and Shuggie befriends a girl whose mother is also an alcoholic.
Amid Shuggie’s struggles to be “normal,” Shuggie Bain develops a palpable sense of helplessness. Picked on for playing with dolls, dancing, dressing neatly and speaking with proper diction, he is mostly friendless. He works hard to help maintain his mother’s dignity, often staying home from school to keep “uncles” at bay and to make sure they have food. But despite his best efforts, Agnes’ condition is beyond his control.
Douglas Stuart’s anxious novel is both a tragedy and a survival story. Shuggie is as neglected as Glasgow, but through his mother’s demise, he discovers his strength. Shuggie Bain celebrates taking charge of one’s own destiny.