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Hubert Selby, Jr.
Requiem for a Dream
This book is dedicated, with love, to Bobby, who has found the only pound of pure–Faith in a Loving God
Except the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain that build it…
Trust in the LORD with all thine
heart; and lean not unto thine
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
When I was in high school, I thought you had to be dead to be a novelist–dead, and from somewhere else: England, the Midwest, France.
One of the more profound, if peripheral, epiphanies hitting me upon reading Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr., was that my working‑class Bronx world was valid material for Art; that the voices, the streets, the gestures that I knew so well were as human, as precious, and as honorable as any found through the centuries and civilizations of literature.
Which is to say that I set down Last Exit to Brooklyn with the terrifying realization that if I had the will and the talent to go with the eye and ear, I could grow up to be a writer.
It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized that talent and material mean nothing without something else that Selby possesses and projects on every page of every book he has written: Love–a forgiveness and compassion that elevate all the bottom dogs that populate his world, the lost, the depraved, thsse coldblooded, and the insensate. His art is his ability to humanize the seemingly inhuman, and by extension to humanize the reader.
No one can convey the visceral experience of the suffering of people like Selby‑the cruel hallucinations of grace, of peace, of love, of Easy Street; the wracking ache of junk sickness; the choking rage of parental/marital/sexual claustrophobia; the tightening screws of paranoid delusion; the pathetic grandiosity of walk‑around dreams; and the dread of the inevitable dawn.
Selby burrows under the skin and into the brains of the urban underclass to deliver infernal monologues seething with tragically skewered delusions, short‑term ecstasies, and obsessive furies that crash and boil across the page, ceaselessly. At his best, he can literally stun us into empathy.
Requiem for a Dream tracks the destruction of four people‑three young, and one older. Here, Selby reports from the marrow of those addicted: to dope, to hope, to tragically childish visions of heaven on earth. Even as its characters ascend to the heights, their nightmarish plummet can be foreseen, but this foreknowledge doesn’t protect the reader from experiencing the almost unbearable suffering, the degradation and oblivion, that is the price of dreams among the powerless.
Requiem for a Dream is quintessential Selby, fueled by moments which make the reader feel like the unwilling newscaster witnessing the Hindenburg disaster who sobbed, “Oh, the humanity !”
It is Selby’s gift to us that once again we find ourselves aching for his people–which is to say we find ourselves loving the unlovable.
New York City
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