Books: Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream
Author: Hubert Selby Jr.
No other author can evoke the primal rages and character of human suffering like Hubert Selby Jr. His writing speaks to the heart of the toil and pains that exist in the dredges of society. Characters so raw and endearing in their flaws, brutal passion and images, and his trademark choppy dialogue all strike the conscience where it hurts and, like a drug, their effects remain long after words are read.
Selby's works are revered for their honesty of disturbing, of not horrific, subject matter. Our worst nightmares are mirrored in the characters's struggles in his stories, right down to last tear and heartbeat.
Unless it's not obvious, the rambling praise I'm extolling is a result of having just finished Last Exit to Brooklyn (1958-1964), and Requiem for a Dream (1978), perhaps his best-known novels to date. I viewed the latter's 2000 film version directed by Darren Aronofsky just before (a fine example of Hollywood genius with Ellen Burnstyn's Oscar-caliber turn as the dexedrine-addicted Sara Goldfarb, and funnyman Marlon Wayans serious turn as wisecracking heroine junkie Tyrone C. Love).
Let's just say the movie was enough to make me spend a few days tracking down the books in all but 2 of a dozen public library and district library branches in town. I read each cover to cover. One word, amazing.
A brief synopsis first.
Last Exit is Selby's first novel. It strings together a series of loosely connected stories following the city's dark underbelly societies; bar-hopping hoodlums and dope addicts, transvestites, underage prostitutes, and lower-class workers and families. Each has a story to tell, and they're all brutal but so honest in their confessions, to read them is to know true sadness.
Second is Requiem, whose plot centers around four central characters--one widowed mother, three friends--who see their daily lives literally become consumed by drug addiction (street and prescription). As time passes they each loose all sense of reality as their thinking becomes skewered by the effects of the drugs. In turn, each starts to believe their drug-induced delusions will make their dreams for the future come true. Selby holds nothing back; all misery and fury akin to the nature of dependency and addiction saturate every page.
NOIR'S TWO CENTS: If you opt to view the film for Requiem first, do it. It was enough for me to seek out the actual novel. But bottom line, both novels above all other media versions of them are the real experience.