MixedThe Michigan DailyCharacters are not built up and then broken down; instead, the tragedies of each chapter immediately and methodically eat at the reader’s emotional pulp, leaving nothing but a rind of numbness ... That’s not to say that the path to numbness is instant — the uninitiated reader faces a grueling experience with the opening chapters. In fact, I was overcome by lightheadedness and nausea and had to put the novel down for numerous days after a vividly violent depiction of a rape in the second chapter. But Stuart’s prose, almost too clear and easy to read for the subject matter it conveys, drives the reader to continue against the best interest of their mental state ... Stuart doesn’t care that he already has the reader pinned; the punches just keep coming, pounding the reader’s emotions into a deeper and deeper comatose state ... And that just becomes the state of affairs. Any one of the traumatic events that Stuart regularly pens could be the foundational obstacle of the protagonist of another book, but their relentlessness in Shuggie Bain drives the reader towards near-indifference. Sure, one could continue reading each chapter with hope, but, in the name of self-care, brace themselves for the inevitable calamity that will meet them. This preemptive repression keeps the reader from appreciating the sparse morsels of redemption and good fortune that the family experiences ... Stuart’s approach was not doomed to fail, but the barrage of tragedy simply became overwhelming in conjunction with the novel’s 430 pages. Perhaps I could have allowed the novel’s full weight to hit me with a smaller serving size, but it became too much to perpetually pull myself up by my emotional bootstraps, knowing that I would be methodically and even more intensely undone over the course of the lengthy remainder of the novel. I felt as though I had to implement defense mechanisms just as the novel’s characters did, if I were to live vicariously through them ... This was no result of a lack of foresight on behalf of Stuart — with emotional resonance for a foreign subject matter being so difficult to evoke, particularly in a debut novel, it would be unfair not to give Stuart praise for injecting his novel with too much of this resonance ... Even if Shuggie Bain offered full chapters where I could breathe easily as opposed to its more common paragraph or sometimes few page oases of relative peace, I may have enjoyed it more in light of current circumstances. But if you need a break — an escape — like I do, you might want to wait until a vaccine has become available before picking up this novel.