Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Last Exit to Brooklyn (Crime)

by Hubert Selby Jr. 

Published: Grove Press (January 14, 1994) (original publication 1962).

Softcover, 320 pages.

“Tralala was 15 the first time she was laid. There was no real passion. Just diversion. She hungout in the Greeks with the other neighborhood kids. Nothin to do. Sit and talk. Listen to the jukebox. Dink coffee. Bum cigarettes. Everything was a drag. She said yes. In the park. 3 or 4 couples finding their own tree and grass. Actually she didn’t say yes. She said nothing. Tony or Vinnie or whoever it was just continued. They all met later at the exit. They grinned at each other. The guys felt real sharp. The girls walked in front and talked about it. They giggled and alluded. Tralala shrugged her shoulders. Getting laid was getting laid. Why all the bullshit?”
As you can see from the snippet above, the books’ style is idiosyncratic, for the most part ignoring the rules of grammar, and slams various phrases together to make new words which mean the same thing, such as ‘tahell” and so on. If this is not your cup of tea then considered yourself fairly warned. The author chose to write in this manner in order to convey a sense of a story being told at a bar by one drunk to another. And he certainly succeeded at that.
Author Hubert Selby, Jr. 

There was quite a scandal when the book emerged. Next to Naked Lunch and The Warriors it was one of the few books published that dealt frankly with urban decay, transgenderism, violence (both street and domestic) and homosexuality. One of its unspoken themes is on the hopelessness of poverty, yet also demonstrates how most of the population has no interest is bettering themselves, or in anything beyond basic survival and substance abuse. It paints quite a different picture of the 1950s than those left to us by The Donna Reed Show and Ozzie and Harriet (kudos to you who know those references).
The book is comprised of a series of interconnected short stories all revolving around a greasy spoon diner, called the Greeks, and a dive bar named Mary’s. Many of the protagonists of one story turn up as minor characters in another. As such there is no real beginning, middle, or end, or a series of character arcs where the protagonists grows and changes from his experiences. These are sleazy people living in a poor area, trying to get by, trying to grab an easy buck, trying to stay drunk to forget about the fact that this will be the whole of their lives. It is filled with violent, unlikable people and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
While the initial publishing drew a lot of criticism, it was the British printing that actually sparked an obscenity charge. It was initially condemned, but then that ruling was overturned on appeal- becoming a landmark case against censorship in English law. As we can see by what’s happening in England today, it hasn’t gone far enough.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Disappointing film based on the book

No comments:

Post a Comment