Last Exit to Brooklyn
by Hubert Selby Jr.
Grove Press, 1964
320 pages / $7.95 buy from Powell’s
1. Finished on C train from Bronx to Bed-Stuy.
3. People of Last Exit (they are people, not so much characters): pimps, widows, trannies, fairies, strikers, scabs, bullies, gang members, factory workers, MPs, doggies, fathers, policemen, mothers, prostitutes, sons, convicts, daughters, addicts, the confused, the disadvantaged, the struggling, everyone poor, everyone violent in some way. No one this reviewer knows is violent.
5. “She tilted her head toward the radio and listened to the hard sounds piling up on each other, yet not touching, wanting to hold Vinnies hand, the strange beautiful sounds (bennie, tea and gin too) moving her to a strange romance where love was born of affection, not sex; wanting to share just this, just these three minutes of the Bird with Vinnie, these three minute sour of space and time and just stand together, perhaps their hands touting, not speaking, yet knowing…just stand complete with and for each other not as man and woman or two men, not as friends or lovers, but as two who love…these three minutes together in a world of beauty, a world where there wasnt even a memory of johns or punks, butch queens or Arthurs, just the now of love…” Note: Ellipses are in text, not of this reviewer’s hand.
7. People drink beer or gin. Whisky is not overly mentioned.
8. “A cigarette only takes a certain amount of time to smoke and though this takes time it seems to take less and less with each one and you can only smoke so many, there comes a time when you have to stop, when you just cant light the next one…at least not for awhile.”
9. People bump into corners of desks on accident. Then they move on.
10. Last Exit was first published in 1957. Selby was 29. He died in 2004. The year today is 2012.
11. The section titled “Strike” is about Harry’s firsts. Harry has sex with a man for the first time. Harry punches his wife for the first time. Harry’s spends money without abandon for the first time in his life with the strike’s expense account. This reviewer has never had sex with a man. This reviewer has slapped a woman though, during sex, because she specifically, like with desire, asked for it. This reviewer has enough money for two more months in this city and does not have an expense account.
12. Two teeth get chipped. Multiple eyes are taken out of heads. Stab wounds. Broken ribs, heads, hands. Cigarette burns on skin. Nearly everyone the reviewer has seen in Brooklyn has a scar.
13. Pronouns slip genders while referencing specific biologies of transvestites without a hitch.
14. Instead of gaining Vinnie’s love, the queen Georgette gets his knife is her thigh. Later, she sets up the perfect environment laced with bennies and dope and gin for Vinnie’s love, but he joins in on a gang bang of a different fairy. A girl texted this reviewer’s friend after this reviewer texted her to come over. She texted what are you doing to the friend.
15. Compare Harry’s sex with his wife—”Harry fumbled at her crotch anxious and clumsy with anger; wanting to pile drive his cock into her, but when he tried he scratched and burned the head and he instinctively stopped for a second, but his anger and hatred starting him lunging and lunging until he finally was all the way in—Mary wincing slightly then sighing—and Harry shoved and pounded as hard as he could, wanting to drive that fucking thing out of the top of her head; wishing he could put on a rubber dipped in iron filings or ground glass and rip her guts out,”—with Harry’s sex with Alberta, a fairy —” Harry lunged at first, then, looking at Alberta, slowed to an exciting movement; and as he moved he was conscious of his movements, of his excitement and enjoyment and not wanting it to end; and though he clenched his teeth from lust and pinched her back and bit her neck there was a comparative relaxing, the tautness and spasms being caused by pleasure and desire to be where he was and to do what he was doing.”
16. Each of the six sections (five parts, one coda) begins with a quote from the Bible.
17.The dialogue comes from a corrugated and skilled ear.”THE KIDS HAIRS DOWN TA HISZASS AND SHE SAYS HE DONT NEED NO HAIRCUT.” Note: Caps lock is, again, not of this reviewer’s doing.
18. Setting: Brooklyn—mostly the southwestern edge (Red Hook, Sunset Park (“57th St”), Coney Island), the Greek’s diner, a strike hall, apartment living rooms re: projects, “the Gowanus Parkway…the oil filmed water of the Gowanus Canal”, Nathan’s bedrooms, a metal factory, a barbershop, a church, a car wash, park benches, the liquor store, the laundromat, the super market, MEL’S Bar; Manhattan—Mary’s and other drag/gay bars.
19. Brooklyn, then, is seen as a cultural identity that is shameful, less than, on the other side of the river.
20. Brooklyn, now, is seen as a cultural identity that is a source of pride, more than, on the other side of the river.
21. Selby had a daughter.
22. The section titled “And Baby Makes Three” is surprisingly nice. No one gets hurt. The groom, Tommy, does “the right thing” by marrying his pregnant girlfriend, Suzzy. It ends with Tommy leaving his wedding reception to sooth the excited Spook’s desire to ride his motorcycle. A girl gets on Tommy’s bike, but this reviewer gave Tommy the benefit of the doubt.
23. Christ, krist, is not used in reference to religion.
24. Because Brooklyn’s not-always-covered substratum is depressed: “Harry,” this reviewer’s favorite person, “could do nothing but endure the nausea and slimy disgust. He wanted to smoke a cigarette, but was afraid, afraid that the slightest movement, even the taking of a deep breath, would cause him to heave his guts up; afraid even to swallow. So he just lay there, a sour taste in his throat; his stomach seeming to be pressuring against his palate; his face still buried in the pillow; his eyes tightly squeezed shut; concentrating on his stomach, trying to think the pressure and foul taste away or, if not, at least control it. He knew, after years of fighting it, losing each time and ending up hanging over a bowl or sink if he was lucky enough to make it there, that this was all he could do. Nothing else would help. Except crying. And he was no longer able to cry. He had many times, locked in a bathroom or on the street after running from the woman he had been with, but now the tears no longer rilled from his eyes, even if he tried relaxing and allowing them to, his eyes just ached, feeling swollen and damp, unrelieved, just as the pressure at his throat remained constant and unrelieved. He just lay there…if only something would happen. He clenched harder at the pillow; clenched his jaw tighter until a piercing pain in his ear and a spasm in his neck muscles forced him to relax. His body jerked slightly, involuntarily. Nothing broke through or even slightly grayed the darkness; his eyes were shut and his head was jammed in the hemispherical blackness, the boundaries unseen, unfelt, to Harry nonexistent. It was just black.”
25. When bought alongside Dubliners and a collection of Kafka, Corey E. of bookthugnation and now Human Relation fame, said “Catching up on some classics?” This reviewer knew Corey was endorsing the whole stack.