Excerpts: Last Exit To Brooklyn (Hubert Selby Jr)

Last Exit To Brooklyn can be quite tough going, partly because of the style in which it is written, and partly because its subject matter is extremely harrowing at times. The abiding impression I have of this book is not of obscenity at all (it got banned in England in the 60s for this), but of rather profound sadness. Its characters are larger than life on the outside, and emotional cripples on the inside, though nowhere as cliched as my description makes them sound. It’s like Rent, except without singing or happy endings or seasons of love or la vie Boheme.

The first of the two excerpts below isn’t actually from the book itself, but from the introduction written by its publishers, describing the litigation surrounding the banning of the book in 60s England. The second is from one of the stories in the book. A bunch of drag queens are entertaining some guys they hope to hook up with, and everyone’s high on benzedrine.

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(From the Introduction, September 1968)

The first prosecution witness was Professor Catlin, an elderly sociologist, who was admitted exceptionally between two defence witnesses as he had to return to America. Catlin insisted on talking through Mr Neill, proclaiming among other things that ‘if this book is not obscene then no book is obscene’. While admitting that what happened in the book happened in life, he announced that he did not object to it in life but he did object to it in literature. The other prosecution witnesses were David Holloway (critic), Sir Basil Blackwell (bookseller and publisher), H. Montgomery Hyde (writer), Dr Dennis Leigh (psychiatrist) and the Rev. David Sheppard (priest and social worker). Sir Basil claimed that the book had depraved him, but it transpired that he had only read it because he had been asked to appear as a witness for the prosecution. The most telling of the prosecution witnesses was the last, the Rev. David Sheppard, who emerged as a naive and well-meaning man, sympathetic to the jury. He said he felt the book pandered to all that was worst in him, and had left him ‘not unscathed’. He was not cross-examined as to what he meant by this, but the assumption is that he found the book erotically stimulating.

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(From the story The Queen Is Dead)

Tony kept leaning forward more and more, listening, laughing, making certain that each one was aware that she was listening to their story and enjoying it; trying to think of some little anecdote she could tell, some funny little thing that had happened or she had seen…or even something in a movie…she refilled her glass with gin, smiling at Goldie; nodded, smiled, laughed, still trying to think of something funny, even slightly humorous, thumbing through years of memories and finding nothing – Well how about leslie? – O!!! that filthy thing – she goes through Central Park about 5 in the morning looking for used condums and sucks them. Holy Krist. Well I have a john who makes me throw golfballs – we had a kid upstate who stuck a life magazine up his ass and couldnt get it out. The – O I love the ones who almost cry when they are finished and start telling you about how much they love their wife and kiddies. And when they take out the pic – O I hate those freaks – Hey, how about that guy the Spook met in the Village that night who gaveim 10 bucks for his left shoe. The Spook toldim he could havem both for 10 bucks and his socks too – Goldie kept looking at Malfie and the way his hair waved back into a thick DA; and Georgette leaned closer to Vinnie and everyone seemed so close, as if they belonged to and with each other and everything was wonderful – Did Francene ever tell you about that Arab she met one night? Well honey, he just fucked her until she thought she would turn insideout. O, that must have been divine. – Camille looked nervously at Sal – It is so refreshing to meet a man who will give you a good fucking. Yes honey, but she almost had to have a hysterectomy.