cover image Marabou Stork Nightmares

Marabou Stork Nightmares

Irvine Welsh. W. W. Norton & Company, $21 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03845-3

When the narrator's polished account of a surreal African safari suddenly gives way to an Edinburgh soccer thug's obscenity-laced vernacular, it's clear that Welsh's unrelenting exploration of the Scottish underclass has undergone an unexpected transmutation. The LSD and heroin of the author's previous works (a story collection, The Acid House; a novel, Trainspotting) have changed into the hospital-bed fantasies and hallucinations of the comatose Roy Strang, but the flashbacked details of his damaged childhood and hooligan's career are as raw and despairing as any Welsh has depicted before. To escape from a bleak public-housing existence, Roy's ``genetic disaster'' of a dysfunctional family emigrates from the U.K. to South Africa (``Sooth Efrikay'' in the novel's endemic Scotch), where young Roy encounters a right-wing, child-molesting uncle as well as the Marabou Stork, a vicious predator-scavenger. Returning home, Roy graduates from abused to abuser. Welsh expertly handles these realistically brutal episodes, from Roy's knifing of a schoolmate just to establish himself, through adult pub-wrecking. Then there's the harrowing secret Roy is trying to repress by imagining, amid ludicrously distracting family visits, a fantasy quest to eradicate the flamingo-killing Stork-``the personification of all this badness... the badness in me.'' With as good an ear for Scotch as James Kelman and as twisted an imagination as Will Self, Welsh makes his novelist's debut stateside with a darkly hilarious, deeply disturbing but ultimately compassionate book. First serial to Grand Street. (Jan.)