Rekindled: Douglas Stuart on the Hope Inherent in Struggle
The Author of Shuggie Bain talks to Stephen Schmidt
On this episode of Rekindled, Douglas Stuart talks to Stephen Schmidt from Greenwich Library about his debut novel, Shuggie Bain. Stuart’s novel, Shuggie Bain, is the story of a working-class family in Glasgow, centering on the relationship between the beautiful, unhappy matriarch, Agnes, and her youngest son, Shuggie. Stuart discusses how the decay of Glasgow in the 1980s parallels the disintegrating Bain family, and how the story of this mother and son is ultimately a love story.
Stephen Schmidt: There are a lot of heady moments in the book, but there is also a very strong underlying feeling of hope throughout the book. It feels like it comes from little Shuggie—was that intentional?
Douglas Stuart: I think that was definitely intentional. When we talk about struggle: what I wanted to do was tell the struggle of Agnes truthfully. I am actually the queer son of a mother who struggled with addiction, so I do write from the inside in that way. I know what that feels like to children, and to parents. I wanted to be truthful to how that felt, and I wanted to talk about Agnes’ struggle with a sense of honor and a sense of realism.
It’s also very Scottish to talk about difficult things very truthfully and very directly, and I hope that’s part of the pillar of the book: is that we really get to see it face on. I wanted the reader to be in the room with Agnes and Shuggie as they struggled. I didn’t really want, as an author, to be creating a barrier where I told you about it; I wanted you to be there. If we were going to watch this and read it and observe it, it was important for me to have the reader be feeling it with Agnes.
But hope is an important part of that struggle, especially for children. You know, children love their parents with this unsinkable, unconditional love, and it’s a really beautiful type of love. It’s why the book is a love story. But to have that love, you do need a sense of hope. So what we see again and again as Agnes stumbles, is Shuggie comes in to sort of prop her up. He doesn’t judge her. He tries to put her back on her feet. And that for me, is the hope of the book.