From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. The British antihero of this moving biography started with teenage glue-sniffing, petty thievery and gang brawls, then graduated to heroin and major thievery. He endured prison stints and led a "medieval existence" on the streets, finally emerging into triumphant semistability as an "ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath" with only occasional episodes of violence and suicidal impulses. In Cambridge, England, Masters, an advocate for the homeless, befriended Stuart—someone for whom "cause and effect are not connected in the usual way"—and found him at times obnoxious and repellent, but also funny and honest. Masters notes bad genes and childhood sexual molestation, and critiques "the System" of British welfare and criminal justice institutions that help with one hand and brutalize with the other, but he doesn't reduce Stuart's intractable problems to simple dysfunction or societal neglect. By eschewing easy answers (the easy answers—don't drink, don't use, don't steal, don't play with knives—are precisely the hardest for Stuart), he accords full humanity to Stuart's stumbling efforts to grapple with his demons. Hilarious and clear-eyed, the author's superbly drawn portrait of Stuart is an unforgettable literary evocation and a small masterpiece of moral empathy and imagination. Photos. (June 6)
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Masters's tragicomic portrait of Stuart Shorter, an "ex-homeless, ex-junkie psychopath" whom he befriended while studying at Cambridge University, starts in the present and moves backward. Through the particulars of a fractured life, including stays in seventeen prisons and a parking garage, Masters hopes to answer Stuart's question "What murdered the boy I was?" Masters is candid about his exasperation with Stuarthe confesses at one point to feeling "sated" with his subject's troublesand achieves a perfect balance of empathy and comedy. The real attraction, however, is Stuart's own voice, as when he recalls "getting rageous" or offers recipes for "prison hooch" and "convict curry." His life resists easy explanation, which makes Masters's patient attention to its concrete details all the more affecting.
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