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Forty-seven stories (ten or so full-length ones separated by lots of short-stories) make up this US debut collection from Glasgow's rough-and-tumble Kelman, who's something of a rude boy and a bum wit, and perhaps too much of an original for American readers. Dense Glaswegian slang puts some of these enigmatic bits beyond the pale, though many are there already: one-paragraph parables and existential observations; surreal anecdotes and lyrical mystifications. The best shorts are the monologues: a vagrant describing his begging techniques (""The one with the dog""); a dying man's last complaint about living next to a noisy road (""Half an hour before he died""); a fellow sounding off about his ""missus"" (""Where but what""); another who admits he despises the poor (""Governor of the Situation""); and one who's ticked-off that a mate bums a fag when he's really not ""skint"" (""Samaritans""). Longer pieces illustrate all sorts of ghetto lore: an elderly gent forgets his own rule about avoiding ""Foreign language users""--as the story is titled--when playing cards; and in ""The Band of Hope,"" a group of ""punters"" make the rounds of all the low-rem gaming houses. Kelman's slum-dwellers are always grubbing cigs, or a couple of coins for a voddy or a pint. Like ""Old Francis"" in the story of that name, these are ""ordinary people. . .on hard times."" Unemployed or alcoholic, they're used to bad booze and living on the dole, like the old buddies who meet queuing up for their checks in ""The wean and that."" For all the anger and rage (""I used to get really fucking browned off--worse, worse, I mean worse than that, really fucking angry""), there's little violence, and lots of humor, mostly bitter and sweet: in ""Sunday papers,"" a ""wean"" struggles through his older brother's paper route and comes up short of cash; and a 15-year-old boy in ""The wee boy that got killed"" would rather work and marry than stay in school, despite the example of his unemployed ""da"" at home. Down-and-out in Glasgow and Manchester: worth sampling, but grimly repetitive.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux