BY ERIC MARKOWSKY
Author: Hubert Selby, Jr.
Grove Press, 1965
Best ebook deal: Not available
Filed under Literary
Not a book for the faint of heart. I cannot stress this enough. If scenes of extreme violence and sex or rape turn your stomach you might want to stop reading this review right now. You won’t want to read this book no matter what I say about it. Remember that movie “Requiem for a Dream”? Remember leaving the theater feeling like nothing would ever be good in the world ever again? The screenplay was adapted from the novel, which Selby, Jr. wrote back in 1978.
If you’re still reading, then I’m pretty sure this is a book you’ll be glad you picked up no matter how troubled you might feel after you put it down. Beyond shock value, which this book admittedly boasts in abundance, Last Exit to Brooklyn offers human portrayals of characters who could easily become caricatures of depravity: prostitutes, thieves, gangsters, alcoholics, abusers of narcotics and children. The novel manages to render its subjects with sympathy for their dreams without forgiving them, or asking the reader to forgive them, for their actions.
Written in relentless paragraphs that don’t break so much as plunge into the next line, Last Exit spews forth with the life 1950s Brooklyn. The city is really the only constant from one end of the book to the other. There’s no single through line in terms of plot, and you’ll probably enjoy each of the book’s episodes a lot more the sooner you stop looking for one. There are a number of reoccurring characters and settings, and the different stories abound with parallels, but ultimately the book’s structure is musical rather than narrative.
The novel is broken into five sections with a Coda, which reads a bit like a rhapsody in the housing projects. The first four shorter sections build to the final climactic movement that relates the days and nights of Harry Black, shop steward of local 392 and captain of the metal worker’s strike headquarters. The point of view encompasses Harry’s grandiose conceptions of himself as well as the machinations of a union and corporation ready to crush him for their own purposes.
I first read Last Exit earlier this summer, and certain scenes have stuck with me for the past months like scars on my memory. It’s not an easy read, and though gripping it could hardly be described as fun, but it’s as thought provoking as it is disturbing, and still worth a little careful attention more than fifty years after it was published.