Stuart: A life backwards
Alexander Masters spent years working with the homeless, and even more years learning Stuart's story. As with most biography, he finishes the book intimately aquainted and 'in love' with his subject – 'his friend, Stuart'. Stuart is a psychotic, alcolohic, criminal, drug abusing homeless man with a serious affection for knives and a tendency to go loco for no apparant reason. He has spent his life in and out of prison, on the streets, and running away from wherever he has found himself. Masters' first draft was rejected by Stuart, who decided it was too dry and academic. He suggested that Masters write it backwards 'like a murder mystery' – who killed Stuart, and left this nutter in his place? Before Masters could finish the second draft – the backwards draft – Stuart had stepped out in front of the last train from Kings Lynn, intentionally or otherwise – and never got to see the finished article.
The backwards structure of the book works well – it doesn't feel contrived, and once you have got the hang of it, it flows smoothly enough. It is intwined with the story of the writing of the book, of Stuart and Alexanders relationship, of the campaign they worked on, and the places they went. Stuart is not romanticised as an ex-chaotic – he is right there – still drinking, drugging, being arrested, assualting others for no apparant reason, and sleeping rough rather than pay for a cab home. Masters work is 'stapling him to the page' – he is wary of mis-representing Stuart, from his bourgeous, middle class, privelidged and 'ordered' life.
Stuart's anxiety to be properly represented is shown, and Masters desire to understand this is touching. The need to understand why certain people turn out certain ways comes up again and again in thier conversations – and Masters' tries really hard to avoid jumping to such a conclusion. As a reader, its also important to try to do the same.
The characters of Masters and Stuart are wonderfully illustrated and endearing, and the death of Stuart, suicide or accident lends the book a tragic poignancy, which ironically, I suspect Stuart would have hated.
its sweet, its smooth and it pulls you in and resisits the urge to shock you with the harsh realities of life on the street. Its not a political tract, its a human life story.
And its good.