Banned as obscene in British courts in 1967, Last Exit to Brooklyn is a stream of consciousness style collection of interlinked stories about poor people in Brooklyn. Each story is introduced with a Biblical quotation. Then the action gets going. In long paragraphs in which people think or talk or argue and using many phonetically spelt words such as krist and fukim, Selby captures the rhythms and the styles of his characters.
And what characters they are. We start with a scene at the Greeks which ends when the boys go out and beat up a sailor from the naval base. Then we discover Georgette. 'She' is a fairy addicted to benzedrine. After getting cut in the cross fire of a Harry and Vinnie knife throwing competition she is sent to the place she dreads most, her home, where her brother tells her off for being a fairy, and then she sneaks out and goes to a gin and benzedrine fuelled party with other fairies and ends up sucking Vinnie's cock, Vinnie being her ex-prison rough trade boyfriend.
Tralala is a young girl who discovers that she can get money by being laid by drunken sailors and then stealing their money when they pass out. She enjoys this and enjoys the sex but she becomes addicted to this way of life and ends up a pathetic tart being gang-banged by by the boys from the Greeks.
Harry is shop steward at an engineering works and causes a great deal of trouble. The management engineer a strike hoping to get rid of him. He finds purpose in the strike although at the same time he discovers a strange attraction for cross-dressing gay men. His role in the strike enables him to spend big, charging it to expenses at the corrupt union. But when the strike ends his life outside drag bars has lost its meaning and his boyfriend throws him over because he can't lavish money on her so he ends up pathetic and beaten up.
Finally there is a 'coda' which explores a number of interlinked lives at the Housing Project. The men are useless, mostly out of work but unwilling to help their wives at home and with the kids, the women are long-suffering, taking a great deal of abuse for the sake of their husband's hard cock at the end of the day. The children just suffer. No life is happy, even the slightly more couth ones.
This is a depressing nightmare vision of life in America's underclass. But it is brilliantly written.
Difficult to read but fantastic. September 2014; 240 pages
- Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57