This is a sad, frustrating, yet compassionate story. In this book, is the main villain (I was going to write "antagonist", but villain is more appropriate) is alcohol that seduces and creates monstrous behaviour sympathetic characters.
Although Agnes seems to be the main character, this is Shuggie's story. He is our anti-hero. For most of the story, Shuggie is a child trying to survive the hardships of poverty in Glasgow without an adult's guidance to help. It is Shuggie who has to take care of his alcoholic mother once his father abandons the family for another woman.
Agnes is both beautiful and ugly. She leaves her first husband, "The Catholic", the father of her first two children, to marry a taxi driver by the name of Hugh Bain and soon after gives birth to Shuggie.
I felt NO sympathy for Agnes for most of the book; I thought it was her vanity more than her addiction that led to her make the stupid, selfish decisions that jeopardized her life and the life of her children…until I came across this quote "She loved [Hugh], and he had needed to break her completely to leave her for good. Agnes Bain was too rare a thing to let someone else love. It would do to leave pieces of her for another man to collect and repair later." To me, the cruelty and selfishness of Hugh outweighed Agnes's weakness.
Like I mentioned earlier, though, this is Shuggie's story. His heartbreak over his mother, his father's treatment, and his confusion about his sexuality make him a genuinely sympathetic character.
I thought about Shuggie long after I finished reading.