STUART by Alexander Masters


A Life Backwards
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British homeless advocate Masters crafts an unconventional biography of a man who raged not only at the dying of the light but often at the very light itself.

The first-time author worked on Stuart Shorter’s story for several years, experiencing the frustrations and occasional joys of a close association with someone caught in chaos. When Masters finished a first draft, he showed it to Stuart, who said it was boring and should be organized more like a thriller or detective novel that worked backwards through events until the discovery of the Truth. One of the charms of this book is that Stuart comments occasionally about the current draft, offering suggestions, sniffing derisively or dismissively about the text. “In biography, most of the time, the real person is a nuisance,” Masters sighs. Stuart was indeed a most difficult case. Sexually abused by a brother and babysitter, addicted to glue-sniffing as a teen (and, later, to just about every other substance), a continual runaway, a habitual jailbird, a sometimes violent denizen of the streets, a common and an uncommon criminal, he was somehow likable as well. Masters claims he was never afraid of Stuart, with whom he shared quarters and close contact. The author does work backwards, sort of, in this final version. He begins in the present and ends with Stuart’s very obscure early childhood. Masters also keeps us apprised of what’s going on at the moment and offers a running commentary on the progress of his writing—a sort of meta-biography. His research included studying books about homelessness and the psychology (or pathology) of the abused, examining court and school records and reading articles. When Stuart is killed by a train (accident rather than suicide, it seems), Masters knows that the Truth he has been pursuing will forever elude him.

Imaginative, piercing portrayal of a man shadowed by merciless demons.

Pub Date: June 6th, 2006
ISBN: 0-385-34000-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Delacorte
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2006


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