Last Exit to Brooklyn – Hubert Selby Jr.,
Requiem for a dream was one of the first powerful cinematic experiences I had. The film had so much personality in itself, the characters and story line merely behaving as embellishments within the living breathing organism that was the film’s ambience. I was quite wowed by how well it was taken and Darren Aronofsky became a director I watched out for. And then Black Swan happened. It had a very similar vibe and the atmosphere was equally affecting as with the previous movie. However, I felt the layers that were so rich in Requiem for a dream were almost absent in Black Swan. This latter movie pretended to be more than what it was, there were hints of layers that were not quite detailed as I would have liked. Maybe I was looking for a lot more depth and felt I did not understand some details that were not fleshed out quite completely.
It wasn’t until my disappointment with Black Swan that I looked up the writer of Requiem. Yes, Darren Aronofsky seems to be very creative and there is no arguing about his original style and execution of a very difficult story. But the original script/story/book for Requiem must have had some amazing writing for it to have warranted the brilliance in execution that was achieved in the film. And so, I found Hubert Selby Jr and his first book – Last Exit to Brooklyn. I was finally fully at peace with what I read and the universe made sense again.
This book is divided into 6 chapters, each a short story in its own and the connecting thread being Brooklyn. The characters are all the kind you see in Bala’s movies about “vilimbu nilai manidhargal” (people living in the fringes of society). They provide the city of Brooklyn with the personality of a monster that is violent, unforgiving, harsh and overdosed on drugs, almost all the time. All of these manifest in all the disruptive ways you can imagine – brutal rape, extreme poverty, guns, violent strikes, etc.,
I usually find movies about “vilimbu nilai manidhargal” exploitative in nature and don’t have much respect whatsoever for them. So, when I started the book, I cringed a bit and was not sure what to expect. And then I realized why this man was different and why his writings were so much more affecting. He belonged to these worlds he was creating with his words, it was his own home and these people were whom he saw and mingled with and was friends with. And there was no judgement. The most brutal and twisted of situations were statements and not exploited for drama. In fact, the style of writing he employs allows for no emotion to be conveyed other than merely stating what happened. There are no exclamations, no quotation marks around conversations, no apostrophes – words just keep pouring out of this book with so much urgency, it feels like the author was in a hurry to write every single thought that came to his mind lest he forget something crucial. Extreme stream of consciousness.
Chapters Tralala, The Queen is Dead and Strikewere the most affecting for me. That really long (4-5 pages in length) sentence in Tralala that ends the chapter with gore violence was the defining moment. As I was reading the sentence, I was thrilled at how amazingly structured the words were, how this could not have been written in any other way and how it conveyed so much of weighted emotion by merely being one huge fragmented sentence. Apparently the book was originally banned for its controversial content, frank sexuality and brutal violence. I couldn’t care less. I did not feel this was exploitative art, it was highly expressionist and it had so much personality and emotion in its writing, I have never read anything as potent as this until now.