Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

The primary emotion in this book for me was sadness. There’s no great single tragic event–it’s just a detailed, nuanced picture of a situation that is entirely common (working-class family; domestic violence; alcoholism; a gay kid), and things happen more or less the way you might imagine, if you thought to imagine such things.

It’s one of those books where the prose just stays out of the way of the characters. They are sometimes odd but utterly believable, and memorable. There’s no description, no exposition–if we’re told what someone looks like, it’s because the character is noticing it. The whole thing feels incredibly intimate, and its scope is in some ways very small–a handful of people, an unremarkable existence–but also enormous, because it exposes so the whole worlds and universes contained in what seems ordinary. Full of pain though it is, the book never descends into despair, and though it shows us some of the worst of people, it also shows some of the best.

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