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STAG: A Story about Coming of Age - In a Bar    by Tim Relf order for
by Tim Relf
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2005 (2005)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The vulnerable main character and narrator of STAG reminded me somewhat of Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. Rob's just been dumped (for good reason) by his girlfriend of two years, Emma, when he joins a week-end stag party for old chum Matt in their old college town of Newcastle. Rob broods over his loss of Emma via flashbacks all through the novel.

It's almost the male equivalent of always a bridesmaid, never a bride, except that Rob has never even been picked to be best man as his close friends settle down. First came James, happily married and soon to be a dad, and now Matt. Only Stevie and Rob are left, and Stevie's picked as best man. The foursome have been close friends since their college days, and Rob feels the others growing away from him - they're all maturing, while he continues with an adolescent boozing lifestyle and in a market research job that bores him.

At first I expected a funny, light read, but STAG is far from that. From Rob's point of view, this 'Story about Coming of Age - In a Bar' leads us slowly and gradually through his realization that he has very real problems with alcohol. His rationalizations for actions that shame him (and give the reader a strong distaste for his character) steadily run out of steam, and eventually Rob realizes that he has to take action before he does something irrevocable to damage his health or prospects permanently.

If you like Brit lit somewhat on the dark side, then read STAG, in which a young alcoholic manages to redeem himself before it's too late, and to finally feel, in the company of friends, 'big, strong, somehow more than myself. As if anything's possible.'

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