It’s time for another adventure in Kate’s 6 Degrees of Separation Meme from her blog, Books Are My Favourite and Best. We are given a book to start with, and from there we free associate six books.
This month we start with the 2020 Booker Prize winner, Shuggie Bain by the Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart. The novel was also a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Kirkus Prize for Fiction.
Goodreads describes Shuggie Bain as “an epic portrayal of a working-class family that is rarely seen in fiction.” The novel features the story of Hugh “Shuggie” Bain as he navigates his childhood in run-down public housing in Glasgow, Scotland, in the 1980s. Shuggie’s father is a philandering taxi driver; his mother, Agnes, keeps up her dignity by maintaining a well-put-together exterior to cover up a turbulent internal struggle fueled by alcohol. Various readers describe the novel as gritty, bleak, depressing, and totally worthy of its Booker Prize. They also warn that the book is written in the dialect of Glasgow, which can make it difficult reading for people unfamiliar with the language.
I had the novel queued up on my Kindle but have decided to put it aside—at least for now—after taking a look at the difficult-to-read language.
1. I recently read The Long Drop by Scottish writer Denise Mina, also set in Glasgow. This historical novel tells a story of a night of pub-crawling that contributed to the conviction of Peter Manuel, a notorious serial killer who was tried, convicted, and hanged in 1958. The long drop of the novel’s title is a method of hanging that aims to prevent the act from becoming a gruesome spectacle:
The long drop method snaps the neck between the second and third vertebrae. Done properly, death is instantaneous. It is a careful calculation of weight, height and muscle tone.
2. Philip Ashley, the narrator of My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, remembers when hanging was purposefully made a gruesome public spectacle, as he tells us at the opening of the novel: “They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not anymore, though.” The memory of seeing, at age 7, the corpse of a convicted man left hanging as a warning to all about how a life of crime ends, comes up repeatedly throughout the novel as Philip ponders whether Rachel, the widow of Philip’s beloved cousin and guardian Ambrose, had a hand in his death.
3. Daphne du Maurier also wrote The House on the Strand. Written and set in the late 1960s, the novel features Dick Young, who accepts the offer of a vacation at the ancestral home in Cornwall of Magnus Lane, his long-time chum. There’s only one stipulation with the offer: Dick must test an experimental drug that Magnus has been developing. The drug transports Dick back to the fourteenth century, where he observes the daily lives of the people living in the area. It isn’t long before Dick is irresistibly drawn to this alternate life, which he finds much more fascinating than his own.
4. Micaiah Johnson’s recently published debut novel, The Space Between Worlds, also features a character drawn to experience alternate lives. In a future in which travel is possible between variant versions of the same world in the multiverse, Cara searches for a place she can call home, a place where she feels she belongs.
5. In American literature, the prototype of the protagonist looking for a place to call home is the young misfit in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. His efforts take him on a raft down the Mississippi River before he decides that he’ll “light out for the territories” to get away from all the forces trying to civilize him.
6. This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger is often compared to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it also features children fleeing an oppressive situation in a canoe headed for the Mississippi River. This 2019 novel has been on my TBR shelf since it came out, and I continue to come across glowing recommendations for it.
So this journey through 6 Degrees of Separation has brought me to a resolution: I’m going to pick up This Tender Land instead of Shuggie Bain as my next read.
Where did your journey take you this month?
© 2021 by Mary Daniels Brown