Busted Scotch: Selected Stories

James Kelman, Author W. W. Norton & Company $23 (262p) ISBN 978-0-393-04072-2

The title of this collection of 35 highly original stories by the Booker Prize-winning author of How late it was, how late comes from a one-page vignette about an unnamed Scot in a cabaret who blows his week's wages on one hand of blackjack--and he's one of the sunnier of his countrymen on display here. From the pool-hall habitues of ""Remember Young Cecil"" to the hallucinating alcoholic of ""O Jesus, Here Come the Dwarfs,"" to the emotionally crippled young father of ""By the Burn,"" Kelman's protagonists are desperate, angry people who live in industrialized settings that afford them no breathing space or peace of mind. Despite fancying himself a ""natural born beggar,"" the narrator of ""Not Not While the Giro"" finds himself so hard up for a smoke that he sucks his thumb to taste the nicotine residue there. Even his dreams are feeble: he longs to become an enigmatic figure who, with his feet, traces the coastline of Scotland while living off the good graces of the townsfolk he meets. Kelman is a brilliant aural portraitist--with the rhythm of his countrymen's speech apparently ingrained on his psyche--and a writer utterly unfazed by risk. (One story trails off mid-rant, another transforms a man's pushing his son into a vat of acid into an act of love.) Thirteen of these stories have appeared previously in the States (10 in Greyhound for Breakfast), but even these are worth re-reading. All told, this collection provides a tasty sampling of Kelman's finest fancies. (May) FYI: Kelman will take part in a five-city Great Scots Reading Tour, along with Irvine Welsh and Duncan McLean.
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