First published back in 1966, Hubert Selby Jr’s debut novel ‘Last Exit To Brooklyn’ caused an avalanche of controversy upon its release; so much so that on the 2nd March 1966 Sir Charles Taylor MP took the book to the House of Commons for prosecution under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act.   Upon a further private prosecution the publishers lost the case and the book was declared 'obscene'.  On the 3rd April 1967, the book was once again bought before the courts, this time under Section 2 of the Obscene Publications Act.  The book went before a jury, and after nine days, was found guilty of the charges set before it.  However, on the 22nd July 1968, Calder and Boyars together with The Defence of Literature and the Arts Society, appealed against the ruling, and in a major turning point in British censorship laws, the ruling was reversed.  Hubert Selby Jr’s controversial debut novel was once again back on the bookshelves.

DLS Synopsis / Reviews:
The book is divided into six separate sections, each one independent of the other, although the common theme of a downbeat, gritty and corrupted society, runs through all six stories, as do many of the characters and premises.

Another Day, Another Dollar – 8 Pages
A local Brooklyn gang are once again spending their night hanging around the ‘Greeks’ dingy all-night-diner where Alex serves them coffee and beer.  Outside one of the young gang members named Freddy is being hassled by his ‘occasional’ sexual partner, Rosie.  The argument quickly escalates, until Freddy finally slaps the girl.  Three drunken rebel soldiers on their way back to their barracks oversee the argument and decide to intervene.  However, Freddy’s vicious gang mates are just a shouting distance away...

This short eight page story sets the scene for the novel perfectly, introducing the local-dialogue inspired prose, and cutting straight to the grubby underbelly of Brooklyn that the entire novel wallows within.  The violence is graphic and shocking in its delivery.  The outcome is equally callous in its unjustified nature, which hits the reader with the haunting truth of modern-day life within such localities.  The mood is now so perfectly set for the next story to begin.

The Queen Is Dead – 42 Pages
Georgette is desperately trying to hook up with the no-good local gang member Vinnie.  After drinking and flirting in the Greeks, Georgette finds herself being hassled outside by Vinnie’s friend Harry, who together with Vinnie, start throwing a pushbutton knife at Georgette’s feet, making the transvestite hooker dance for their amusement.  However their taunting game ends when the knife gets embedded in Georgette’s leg.  The two men take Georgette back to her house where her brother causes more misery for the down-beaten hooker.  With her Benzedrine taken away from her, and her leg now well on the way to recovery, Georgette leaves the house, to begin a drink and drug fuelled party with a group of fellow transvestites.  Vinnie and a few of his mates are soon invited along, much to Georgette’s delight.  Maybe tonight will be the night when she finally gets her man...

With drink and drugs portrayed as a casual way of life for these emotionally rejected transvestites, the gritty tale sets an oppressive and heart-rending scene for the principal character of Georgette.  Mixed in with the chaotic rollercoaster ride of emotions, the desperate storyline tells a haunting tale of an almost obsessive love that the reader knows will almost certainly end in tragedy.  The outcome is as graphic as it is appalling.  But there could be no other way for it to end.

And Baby Makes Three – 6 Pages
Just four hours after Tommy and Suzy tie the knot in a last-minute marriage, they are celebrating the christening of their first new born baby.  The resulting party is in full swing, with alcohol in abundance.  And the local lad Spook has finally got a motorbike after longing for one for so very long.  Spirits are high with the new family, but Spook just won’t let up about his new bike...

Family values are thrust into the forefront of this quick and atmospheric little story.  Unlike the other tales in the book, no real direction or concluding factor is given to the story, other than setting down a questionable premise of modern day lifestyles and their dying family values.  The characterisation is as intrinsically hand-carved and instantly gripping as they are within the entirety of the novel.  However, with this short instalment, the characters and their individual traits are what sets down the tale and make it so compelling.  This is a story that will leave a sad smile upon every reader’s face.

Tralala – 17 Pages
Tralala is a young and good looking prostitute working the bars and streets of Brooklyn.  She knows that her looks and her figure are leaps and bounds above the other girls working the local area.  She can pick and choose who to have from the navy and army men who visit these bars.  But she wants more than just the money that they offer her.  At first she takes to robbing them for everything they have on them, but soon she realises the benefits in making these lonely men believe what they have with her is something real.  That way they’ll shower her with gifts and pay for night after night of drinking and fine dining.  But as time goes by, and she carries on using, abusing and treading on everyone she encounters, her appeal gradually begins to slide.  No longer is she the best looking hooker on the streets.  No longer can she pick and choose her punters.  Without really realising it, Tralala is sliding down into an abyss of moral corruption.  The tables are turning for those she once used without a seconds thought...

Possibly the most shocking of all the stories included in the book, this tale delivers a premise of gradual demise from the view point of this uncaring and emotionally-detached prostitute, who throughout the entirety of the tale, uses others for her own gain.  As her hideously vulgar attitude towards others pushes her through life, her gradual downfall marks out a deliberate point of her eventual comeuppance.  However, this feeling of justification is only fleeting before the tale descends even further, until the reader is suddenly thrown into utter pity for the morally lost Tralala.  The conclusion (the novel’s most notorious scene) is so overwhelmingly shocking and utterly appalling, that the reader can’t help but finally sympathise with the character; blurring the lines of where justified comeuppance ends.  Be warned, the ending is truly harrowing.

Strike – 84 Pages
Harry is a lathe machinist who everyone knew had been taken a vast amount of liberties at his work place, all on the back of his involvement with their workers union.  His life consists of latching on to his colleagues in the nearby bars and tolerating the existence of his wife at home.  However, things are looking up for Harry with the announcement of a forthcoming strike on behalf of the workers at the factory.  Now he has the responsibility and power he has always craved.  And with the strike comes a seemingly unlimited expense account for him to use (and abuse) at will.  The beer will flow, and all of a sudden Harry will be popular in the eyes of his co-workers and the local guys from the Greeks diner.  However, before long the guys are coming over to the 'official strike office', bringing along one of the local transvestites.  And for the first time in his life, Harry can’t take his eyes off this sexually charged object of his fantasies...

By far the longest story in the book, the tale delivers an involved and character rich storyline that resonates perfectly with the mood and atmosphere of the entire book.  The character of Harry is a complex one, with great amounts of the tale put aside for his developing (and decaying) emotional and mental state.  With the gradual shift and realisation of his true sexuality, the story shifts through a range of emotional states, making for an altogether gripping and intriguing tale.  The final outcome and (somewhat predictable) fall-from-grace is nothing short of a stomach-tightening read.  Stangely there is no surprise in the shocking finale in store for Harry considering the other stories that this one sits shoulder-to-shoulder with.

Landsend – 59 Pages
This final story is given the vague description of the novel’s ‘Coda’, in that it brings many elements of the book together to form one whole piece.  Indeed, this is exactly the structure of this final section of the book.  In it the reader is invited to glimpse various dysfunctional families or individuals from a high-rise housing estate, often referred to as ‘The Project’.  The residents offer up stories of martial problems, domestic violence, alcohol dependency, affairs and horrendous levels of child neglect.  The stories have no real ending or outcome; they just exist to serve as a glimpse of the day-to-day reality for the lives of these people.  Individually the short tales are unsettling and cold; together they speak of a very real down-beaten world of dreary of violence and misery, lacking morals or any form of respect.

This final instalment is a masterpiece of despair.  The stories immerse the reader once and for all in the misery of the world that Selby Jr has so masterfully projected on to the pages.  Together the stories draw in every that the book has brought to the surface, enriched with predominant characters to bring forth the shocking brutality of their lives in Brooklyn. 

DLS Final Review:
All in all, Hubert Selby Jr’s debut novel is a masterpiece of shocking fiction that seems to portray more truth than it does anything else.  The novel unashamedly uncovers the pitiful and morally corrupt lives of the characters, exposing their emotions, desires, weaknesses and fears.  The subject-matter resides around violence, drugs, alcohol, sexual infidelity and neglect.  With this, the novel delivers a number of horrifically shocking passages, twisting the reader’s guts up as Selby callously lays down the graphic reality of the scenes.

The prose used throughout the entirety of the novel is void of any normal rules of grammar or punctuation.  Instead, the stories flow as if spoken by one person to another, perhaps in a dingy Brooklyn bar.  The result is an atmospheric piece of fiction that keeps the reader engaged throughout.  There is no break from the text until the story is over, as it would be with a story that is told to you.  The narration is as important as the text, giving the words their dialect and place in the world.

This is a book that clings to your skin with its unmistakable filth and savage brutality.  The book doesn’t ask questions of the reader, it just sets down the harsh reality of these lives and lets the reader take from it what they will.  It’s uncompromising and uncaring approach forces the reader to adjust themselves to the events that unfold.  This is not for the easily offended.

The novel runs for a total of 234 pages, which includes an eight-page foreward by the publishers (written post-trial 1968) and a five-page introduction by Anthony Burgess - author of 'A Clockwork Orange' (1962).

© DLS Reviews

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