This book was highly recommended by my brother, more than once, which is how it found its place on my second list of books. He claims to be met with disdainful silence by those he’s loaned the book to and yet for some reason, no one ever returned his book. Enough digression…on with it.
Selby’s writing is oft described as raw and what came to mind while perusing this work was an autopsy of man’s thoughts revealing its gory entrails up close and personal. The characters are either despicable or hopeless and early on, this reader knew there’d be no happy ending, but just hoped no character would sink lower than those degenerates before him.
One of the hopeless, Alex, is the owner of the Greeks, a local cafe that serves as a central location where many of the characters visit. Alex is treated very poorly and his attempted threats are received with snickers and laughter so he in turn, laughs along and quite sadly, at himself. Not a place I’d visit solo after dark.
Georgette, referred to as a hip queen is a transvestite, despised by her brother and worried over by her mother. She lives a dangerous life drinking and popping bennies while hustling herself among a very rough crowd. After having a knife thrown at her that eventually gashes her leg, she recuperates only to spend time with the same men who thought nothing of the knifing.
The prostitute known as Tralala hustles men and steals from them believing her breasts are her only asset and what she’ll use to survive. Her cynical view of the world has left her with no friends and no expectations so after drinking heavily and being gang raped, she and the reader feel no great surprise. Probably the most pitiful character in the book.
An easily despised character, Harry, is a shop steward and when a strike occurs is afforded time to realize his closeted passion for men. He abuses his wife and child, is disliked by coworkers and management, the hoods he shares his liquor with and the drag queens he picks up in bars. This is the guy that makes you want to vomit, but you wait for his comeuppance and it does come, but only makes one feel even sicker. Somehow, we all know a guy like this…
Having spent some time in Brooklyn (birth place of both my parents), I’d most certainly meet up with Mr. Selby, somewhere in that New York borough. It would not, however, be where the hipsters hang, but likely where others venture with caution. (I think I’d be in good hands.) Over a beer or two, I’d ask about his knack for observation and growing up in Brooklyn surrounded by what would become a host of very interesting characters. Said to be a writer with no formal training, I believe I’d learn a great deal from him.
My rating for Last Exit to Brooklyn is an 9 out of 10.
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