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Was Welsh A One-Shot Wonder?
on August 29, 2001
With the publication of his second book, "Marabou Stork Nightmares," the balance tilts pretty strongly towards YES. Where "Trainspotting" was a mad rush of invention and queasy power, "Nightmares" is all too obviously contrived.
Most authors these days seem to be slipping into the trap of using their material as some kind of chic springboard for trendy cause-based moralisms. People by and large do not read novels like "Marabou Stork Nightmares" and then smack their foreheads and cry out at how deluded they've been; writing novels to explicitly further such an agenda is generally a waste of ink in this day and age. Granted, Welsh clearly had a few other things on his mind when he wrote this, but they're plowed under by the weight of his relentlessly programmed plotting (and ending). Slogans from Zero Tolerance, a Glasgow-based group that claims "there is no acceptable level of male violence against woman and children," dot the book's final chapters and haunt Strang through his downward collapse. I kept thinking, a smarter book would wonder why only male violence against women, instead of female violence against men, or what have you, is "unacceptable." By trying to take hopelessly obvious moral stands, the book misses its own point. The ham-handedness of the presentation doesn't help, either.
At the end of "Trainspotting," Welsh shows how the moral universe that his characters inhabit is so feeble that ripping off one's mates is considered "worse" than heroin addiction -- the irony being that a "choice" between the two is only possible when one's universe is the size of the spoon used to cook up the shot. The reader was left, quite rightly, to connect the dots. With "Nightmares," Welsh delivers what amounts to an exercise in hand-holding, a 264-page tract on Why Rape Is Bad. Save your dimes.