Booker Prize-winning author of “Shuggie Bain,” Douglas Stuart, returns with his latest novel, “Young Mungo”, about a 15-year-old boy who falls in love for the first time in a violently homophobic community. Unable to accept his son’s sexual orientation, Mungo’s alcoholic mother sends him fishing with two men from her AA meeting, who promise to make him a man.
Read an excerpt below:
As they neared the corner, Mungo stopped and brushed the man’s hand off his shoulder. It was such an assertive gesture that he took everyone by surprise. Turning, Mungo narrowed his eyes at the tenement and his eyes began to twitch with one of his nervous spasms. As his mother watched him through the wheat-ear pattern of the net curtains, she tried to convince herself that his movement was a happy wink, a beautiful Morse code that she telegraphed that all would be well. FINE his youngest son was like that. He smiled when he didn’t want to. He would do anything just to make other people feel better.
Mo-Maw parted the curtain and leaned against the window frame like a woman looking for company. She lifted the cup of tea from her with one hand and tapped the glass with her pearly pink nails. It was a color she had chosen to make her fingers look fresher, because if her hands looked younger, then her face might look younger too, and her whole being. When she looked at him, Mungo moved again, his feet turning toward her house. She waved her painted fingers at him and shooed him away. Go!
His son was slightly hunched over, the backpack making a small hump on his back. Unsure of what to bring, he had filled it with half-baked nonsense: an oversized Fair Isle sweater, tea bags, his dog-eared sketchbook, a Ludo game, and some half-used tubes of medicated ointment. . However, he hesitated in the corner as if the bag might tip him backwards into the gutter. Mo-Maw knew that the bag was not heavy. He knew it was his bones that had become dead weight.
This was all for her own good, and yet he dared to look at her with a sad gaze. It was too hot for her nonsense. He was destroying her nerves. Go! she mouthed again and took a drink of the cold tea.
The two men lounged around the bend. They shared a sigh, a look and a laugh, before putting down their bags and lighting cigarettes. Mo-Maw could see that they wanted to leave (these narrow streets did not like unfamiliar faces) and realized that patience was needed not to goad his son. The men were smart enough not to press Mungo, not so close to home, not when he could still get away. His narrowed eyes kept moving to him, watching, waiting to see what the boy would do next, as his hands dug into his pants pockets as they removed the ball sacks from his thighs. The day would be sultry and closed. The young man toyed with himself. Mo-Maw licked the back of his lower teeth.
Mungo raised his hand to wave out the window, but Mo-Maw scowled at him. He must have seen his face harden, or maybe he thought the greeting was childish, because he aborted the gesture and sucked in a fistful of air, which made him look like a drowning man.
In his baggy shorts and oversized cagoule, he looked like a waif dressed in hand-me-downs. But when he brushed the cloud of curls from his face, Mo-Maw saw his jaw tighten and was reminded of the determined young man he was becoming. He hit the glass again. Don’t frown at me.
The younger of the two men stepped forward and put his arm around Mungo’s shoulders. Mungo winced at the weight. Mo-Maw watched him rub his sides and remembered the tender purple bruises blooming on his ribs. She hit the glass Oh, for God’s sake, go away! At this, his son lowered his eyes and let himself be carried away. The men laughed as they patted his son on the back. Guide boy. Brave boy.
Mo-Maw was not a religious woman, but she stretched her pink fingernails skyward and wiggled them as she shouted hallelujah. She poured her tea on the parched spider plant and filled her cup with fortified wine, turned up the music and kicked off her shoes.
Excerpted from “Young Mungo” © 2022 by Douglas Stuart. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Grove Press, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.
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