Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: Stuart - A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters

Cover of "Stuart: A Life Backwards"Cover of Stuart: A Life Backwards

Stuart, the focus of Alexander Masters' book, is as enigmatic and polarizing as real people tend to get. There is a reason that Masters introduces us to Stuart now, rather than beginning at the childhood that spawned this creature.

Stuart is akin to a horrific train wreck that you can not tear your eyes away from; he is scary and depressing, repulsive and untantalizing, yet somehow silumtaneously mesmerizing and endearing. You wouldn't want to share an elevator or a dark alley with this character, but you might somehow find yourself compelled to do so anyway. Not only to hear the outlandish tales of the chaos that Stuart has both wrought and endured, but for the occasionally glimpses of the wise and witty soul buried beneath layers of abuse, neglect, and self-loathing.

Masters takes the reader backwards through Stuart's life, exposing events as the occurred, then revealing events that laid the groundwork prior to them. Like an archeologist peeling back layer after layer of cultural sediment and fossilized civilizations, Masters removes the grimy layers of Stuart one anecdote at a time. By the time you reach the core of such a being, the young child faced with emotionally crippling systematic abuse, you can feel pity for the man's origins, but you still might not be able to bring yourself to forgive him for what that child has begun. That's probably how Stuart would like it.

Forwards or backwards, Stuart's life is an engrossing story worth reading. But reading it backwards, believe it or not, tends to make more sense.

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