In his successful book ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ (1997), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the American biologist Jared Diamond pulls Russian literature to explain our ability to domesticate animals throughout history. She calls the ‘Ana Karenina Principle’ the fact that species have to meet a series of requirements without exception (not just one) in order to be domesticated, in the same way that a happy marriage needs to function in several different ways so as not to fall apart, aspects such as sexual attraction, peaceful coexistence, religious compatibility and economic agreements.
In the case of the animals that we have managed to subdue, according to Diamond, they meet, for example, a not very complicated diet (to be able to feed them ourselves), a capacity for rapid growth, the possibility of reproducing in captivity or the absence of a trait. irascible or fearful If any of these requirements fail, no domestication is possible. For example, an elephant grows too slowly to be profitable. Or a cheetah is too modest to breed behind bars.
The happy families pass all the subjects, unifying themselves, but the unsuccessful ones sink each one for a different front
Diamond calls it the ‘Anna Karenina Principle’, of course, because of the very famous frontispiece to Tolstoy’s novel: “All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” The happy families pass all the subjects, unifying themselves, but the unsuccessful ones sink each one by a different front or side (sometimes by all at once), experienced a proper sense of tragedy and misery.
The tragedy, in this case, is not Russian, but British. I get to ‘The Shuggie Bain Story’ (Sixth Floor) attracted by a certain promotional claim. A book is never what its publisher says the same as a movie never responds to its trailer. In the case of the Booker Prize 2020 (an award that brings together books in English by authors from the Commonwealth and the Republic of Ireland), it is sold under the somewhat Almodovarian premise of the childhood of a homosexual child in a peeling and dark world, the de-industrialized, bronchitis-riddled Glasgow of the 1980s, which in turn is the backdrop to Margaret Thatcher’s limping and gruff first term.
But ‘The story of Shuggie Bain’ turns out to be something different (despite the fact that its author, Douglas Stuart, assures that “it is a very political book”) in the same way as ‘The Ashes of Angela’ (1996), another novel from adults who spend their wages in the tavern when they return to collect itThis is not a plea against De Valera’s Ireland of rosaries, damp stains, and boiled potato peelings. Fortunately.
Mother and son
“It’s a love story between a mother and a son,” says Douglas Stuart, which is a much more interesting premise. Because it appeals to the elemental. And because it isolates the marrow of the history of the noise and fury of the cogorzas, razor blades out of reach of everyday suicidal impulses and taxi drivers who rate and then rape (there are several in the book, including the husband who has left them). Shuggie’s unconditional love for his alcoholic mother, Agnes, and hers for their youngest child, who memorizes historical Celtic and Glasgow Rangers results to appear normal, pierces the book like a pin.
The book would be unbearable if it weren’t for its author’s amazing capacity to love
It is almost all of this, almost the autobiographical version of the love that the writer, also homosexual, professed to his Scottish mother, also at the drinking pit, and who died when he was only 16 years old. “The book would be unbearable if it weren’t for its author’s amazing capacity for love,” writes Leah Hager Cohen in her New York Times review. Stuart claims to avoid the label of autofiction, but the remains of the tracing paper are visible to the naked eye in the book. Stuart is Shuggie Bain. And a simple, stubborn love chains them both to save their mothers. Until the last consequences.
But Agnes Bain cannot be saved, just as the father of the hungry McCourt brothers could not be brought back home at dawn without pay or dinner, singing against England and raising his children to swear they would die for Ireland. . A fascinating father when he told them stories before the fire, but nefarious the rest of the time, that is to say, the time that really matters discounted the mythology of childhood; an unrepentant father, irredeemable.
Irish teacher and popularizer Mike Crowley is right when he talks about “Shuggie Bain and the illusion of trying to keep up.” An illusion that is exemplified in the willful fight against drinking. Or in the simple hope that people will change, sometimes from the most childish and alienated innocence, as when Shuggie tells his mother, before a move: “We have to promise that we will start from scratch. That we will be normal.”
Resignation and realism
But even the mother is not going to stop drinking beer out of teacups at dawn (unless she goes back to Alcoholics Anonymous, a worse stigma than being a drunk) Not even Shuggie is going to stop being gay no matter how many times his lunch is stolen at recess or his older brother, Leek, tries to teach him to walk without a pen. Even the safe haven that older siblings are always shows a monstrous face in Shuggie’s case: “You are already grown up. It is time for you to integrate. You have to behave like the rest of the children. If you want to survive, you have to work hard. plus”.
The stories of unhappy families (unhappy not only because of their own sins but also because of the intolerance and hostility of others) serve to learn the medicinal effects of resignation and realism, a realism against the illusion of rationalizing what does not make sense , addictions, days without a trace, chronic problems. The stories of hopeless families serve to aspire to the modest catharsis of the misfortune of others, a dramatized, stylized misfortune, situated in the comfortable distance of fiction. We aspire to learn something (not only to feel better) and to reaffirm ourselves in front of the deformed and cruel mirror of a book, otherwise, which is not miserabilistic, although sometimes something past of lyricism and gravity.
Against the illusion of rationalizing what doesn’t make sense, addictions, days without a trace …
There are categories within the catastrophe. AND it is not the same unstructured as dysfunctional (the Panero brothers, the Aribau street family, the AM Homes stories). But it is not lost on the ironic Frank McCourt that “happy childhoods don’t deserve our attention”, in his memorable start to ‘Angela’s Ashes’, which exudes a sense of humor that we miss in ‘Shuggie Bain’: “When I look back at my childhood I wonder how I even survived. It was, of course, a wretched childhood. The wretched Irish childhood is worse than the ordinary wretched childhood, and the wretched Irish Catholic childhood is worse.”
Neither the hunger pangs nor all the priests in Limerick were enough to tame him, and he left for America. Not even the most homophobic and unhinged environment can change Shuggie Bain, the Scottish boy who, at just five years old, played with beer cans that included photos of half-naked women on the back. The father looked at him proudly. The mother knew that Shuggie was actually playing with dolls.