Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Book Review: Shuggie Baine by Douglas Stuart

Reviewer: Alan Chin
Publisher: Grove Press (Oct, 2020)

Pages: 448


Shuggie Bain is the story of a lonely boy growing up gay in a run-down public housing area of 1980s Glasgow, Scotland. His broken family, due in large part to his alcoholic mother, is on the dole and trying to survive the mother’s destructive lifestyle. Shuggie’s mother, Agnes, dreams of a better life, a life of money and love and beautiful things, but her drinking only digs her and her children deeper into debt and misery. Shuggie is the youngest of three children, and the only one who accepts and tolerates his mother. He understands his mother because he is very much like her—someone who takes pride in her looks while all of her peers ridicule her. He does everything he can to keep Agnes going, hoping that someday his philandering taxi-driving father will return to lift them up into a better life. But as Agnes increasingly finds solace in drink, the older children abandon their home to find their own way, leaving Shuggie to care for his mother as her alcoholic binges bring on more destructive mood swings. Agnes is supportive of her son, even knowing the boy is gay. But her addiction eclipses everyone around her, including Shuggie.


A distressing story of surviving in an unsympathetic world where addiction, betrayal, sexuality, loneliness, and love assault you every day. Shuggie Bain is a portrayal of a working-class, dysfunctional family that is rarely seen in fiction. It is a searing debut by a talented novelist who tells an honest and powerful story.


I loved and hated this story. It is a heartbreaking tale that kept reminding me of my own lonely dysfunctional childhood, bringing up one painful memory after another. And yet, the voice was so unique and so compelling that I fell in love with this story. I could not put it down. I’ve heard many people say this book was too repetitive, and there is much of that. However, having lived in a dysfunctional family, that repetition rings true. Over and over as one sees hope, one is knocked down again. That’s why I think this is a story of survival. 


This debut novel was a well-deserved winner of the Booker Prize and a finalist for the National Book Award. 

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Why I Think Everyone Should Write Stories

 When I first started writing stories, back in the mid-nineties, I didn’t have the knowledge nor the talent to write compelling stories. All I had was imagination and the will to feed that desire. I didn’t think I would ever be published. But back then getting published didn’t matter. Because I found there is so much more to writing fiction than getting published. 


I’ve come to believe that everyone can benefit greatly by writing, and I base that assumption on my own experiences. Whenever I start a new story, be it a short story or a novel, I always choose a topic, location, and culture I want to learn more about. And then, as I draft an outline and delve into the story in my mind, I’m forced to study, to learn, to expand my understanding of the many varied topics and issues. For a novel, I typically read fifteen to thirty books on a subject, and several dozen news articles. I become immersed in the cultures, the foods, the landscapes, the people. And as I write, I begin to surprise myself.


And what I’m saying is: as I grow in knowledge something wonderful happens. When I grow my knowledge base, I begin to create different characters, and those characters do things I’d never dreamed of. I surprise myself by letting my imagination ride my new knowledge bareback into new and often delightful territory. And that new territory is a mirror. I see myself, I come to know more about myself, I come to better understand and appreciate who I am.


I have written many stories over the last twenty years. I’ve published eight novels and one collection of short stories. I’ve written three novels and countless short stories that are unpublished. And each story turned into a journey of self-discovery. And that’s why I think everyone can benefit by writing fiction. Who doesn’t want to explore their own depths by riding their creativity into new terrains?


I believe writing is one of the greatest learning experience a person can attempt. 


Saturday, December 10, 2022

A Pic of my Herman and I

 This is a pic of my Herman and I. Herman is the handsome one on the right. And for the record, we did not order all these desserts. We had help.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

My Fifteen Favorite Movies

 A list of my fifteen favorite movies of all times. These are movies I’ve seen many times and always look forward to seeing them again. I tried to narrow it down to only ten, but I found that impossible.


1.     Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967)

2.     Laurence of Arabia (1962)

3.     Flight of the Phoenix (1965)

4.     Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

5.     Cabaret (1972)

6.     Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001)

7.     Godfather trilogy (1972)

8.     Star Wars (1977)

9.     Gandhi (1982)

10.   Rear Window (1954)

11.   Amadeus (1984)

12.   To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

13.   Green Book (2018)

14.   The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

15.   Departures (2008)

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Book Review: The Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris

Reviewer: Alan Chin

Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company (July, 2021)

Pages: 358




In the waning days of the Civil War, brothers Prentiss and Landry—freed by the Emancipation Proclamation—seek refuge on the homestead of George Walker and his wife, Isabelle. The Walkers, wracked by the loss of their only son to the war, hire the brothers to work their farm, hoping through an unexpected friendship to stanch their grief. Prentiss and Landry, meanwhile, plan to save money for the journey north and a chance to reunite with their mother, who was sold away when they were boys. But when the white town’s folk of Old Ox hear that the brothers are being paid good wages for their toil, trouble begins, and grows, and violence follows. 

Parallel to their story runs a forbidden romance between two Confederate soldiers. The young men, recently returned from the war to the town of Old Ox, hold their trysts in the woods. But when their secret is discovered, the resulting chaos, including a murder, unleashes convulsive repercussions on the entire community. In the aftermath of so much turmoil, Isabelle emerges as an unlikely trailblazer, proffering a healing vision for the land and for the newly free citizens of Old Ox.

I adored this extraordinary debut novel by Nathan Harris. He has created a cast of unforgettable, sympathetic characters who are multifaceted, absorbing, and well-crafted. Each main character is vulnerable, yet also holds an inner strength and a desire to survive. They quickly captured my heart and carried me through all the explosive plot twists to a very satisfying ending. What I loved most about this story was the refined voice the author captures which propels the story along with elegance and grace.

Setting the story in Georgia just as the Civil War is ending gives the read a view into the white-supremacist world of the old south, and shows with candor the uncomfortable truth of human cruelty, and also human compassion. This view reflects race relations today. The author weaves emotion into every page, and every word holds significance. This story will keep you guessing, and keep you yearning for a positive ending for each main character. Harris writes with the skill of a master storyteller.

Haunting and powerful, The Sweetness of Water is an engaging, beautiful read that will stay with you.

About the Author: Nathan Harris holds an MFA from the Michener Center at the University of Texas. The Sweetness of Water, his first novel, was a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Harris was a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree in 2021. He lives in Seattle, Washington. 



Sunday, November 27, 2022

I'm Back

After almost two years of being away from this blog, I'm back. 

During my time away, mostly during Covid, I kept my head down writing. I have now three manuscripts that I believe are ready to send to a publisher.  So I hope to get into the swing of publishing and promoting my work once again. 

I have also during the last year taken three long trips: 

1. Five weeks exploring Egypt and Jordan,

2. Six weeks trekking across Northern Spain for the third time, and then down into Portugal to Lisbon,

3. Ten weeks in Southeast Asia--Singapore, Malasia, Thailand.

It was exciting for me to visit these places while there are still relatively few tourists traveling due to the pandemic. I hope to be posting pictures and descriptions of my travels in the coming weeks.