cover image The Acid House

The Acid House

Irvine Welsh. W. W. Norton & Company, $13.95 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-393-31280-5

In Welsh's (Trainspotting) gritty proletarian universe, everyone from God to Madonna (the Material Girl, not the Virgin) speaks tough, working-class Scottish dialect: ``That cunt Nietzsche wis wide ay the maark whin he sais ah wis deid,'' confides a prickly, pint-hefting Almighty in a Glasgow pub. ``Ah'm no deid, ah jist dinnae gie a fuck.'' Nihilism and self-absorption characterize the nearly indistiguishable junkies, football hooligans and petty thieves who narrate these edgy, preponderantly first-person stories and one novella. Like fellow Scot James Kelman (whose salty vernacular Welsh's dialogue echoes), Welsh's predatory characters are society's dregs, hard-luck losers pinned to seediness by the empire's decline and by their own low expectations. The plots address this unrelenting grimness with shocking violence or twisted comedy. With the former, Welsh lacks Kelman's chilling incisiveness and tense dramatic control; he's somewhat more successful at broad satire and manic, high-concept humor. When it works, it's hilarious: ``Where the Debris Meets the Sea'' features inventive turnabout, as fanzines and tabloid TV programs about Scottish lorrie drivers feed the sexual fantasies of Madonna and friends. More often, though, the satire lacks teeth, descending instead to weak sarcasm. The title story's inspired premise (an acid tripping malcontent and a yuppie couple's newborn swap souls) fizzles out in conventional, trite pokes at political correctness, men's groups and upward mobility. Author tour. (Apr.)