A memorable Exit
Selby Jr.’s episodic novel remains relevant
Last Exit to Brooklyn
Hubert Selby Jr.
An amazing thing about literature is its ability to remain relevant years and years after its initial publication. Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. is one of those great literary pieces that remains relevant due to its frank and critical portrayal of lower-class Brooklyn in the 1950s. Although it takes place 70 years ago, Hubert tackles current issues such as drug use, street gangs, rape, homosexuality, transvestitisms, prostitution, and domestic violence that even in modern society are continuously confronted, debated, and often considered illicit.
The book is broken into six separate parts with all characters somewhat associated with a bar in the Brooklyn ghetto. The parts are set up so that they could be read separately as stories but when put together the reader feels a true connection with a full community of derelicts and outcasts. The first story follows a group of drunken hoodlums who pick a fight with army soldiers. The second story focuses on Georgette, a transvestite hooker who tries to seduce a hoodlum with drugs. The third story focuses on an alcoholic father who is disappointed by his daughter’s life decisions that will keep her in poverty. The fourth part is the most painfully vivid section of the book, it discusses a young prostitute who sleeps with sailors and steals their money. She can’t feel love and her demise is extremely dramatic, climaxing in her gang rape. The fifth part focuses on a lazy abusive husband, who acquires a position as a union leader. He uses his temporary power to make friends with young punks and buy prostitutes. The sixth part combines an ordinary day in the lives of citizens of a housing development.
What truly makes Last Exit to Brooklyn unforgettable is Selby Jr.’s individual writing style. He throws away regular grammar and prose and writes as if you are reading a conversation between two friends in a bar. Selby uses casual and coarse language, often using slang. His choice to write in this style grabs the reader and places them at the stool beside the barflies’ conversation. The reader becomes part of the low-class community, concerned with the events, destroyed by the inequality.
It is this ability to evoke emotion that caused so much scandal when the book was initially released. It was banned from Italy and was subject of an obscenity trial in the U.K. Yet it is also the emotion that makes this novel timeless.
It is important to read Last Exit to Brooklyn in order to reconnect generations and to bring to light the importance of recognizing and understanding social inequality and societal problems that are still very much existent today. By reading the book, those of us who may not understand living in poverty are forced to live through the characters lives; this new understanding will force our society to recognize its indifference.