Last Exit to Brooklyn
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|Author||Hubert Selby, Jr.|
|Cover artist||Roy Kuhlman|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Followed by||The Room|
Last Exit to Brooklyn is a 1964 novel by American author Hubert Selby, Jr. The novel has become a cult classic because of its harsh, uncompromising look at lower class Brooklyn in the 1950s and for its brusque, everyman style of prose.
Although critics and fellow writers praised the book on its release, Last Exit to Brooklyn caused much controversy because of its frank portrayals of taboo subjects, such as drug use, street violence, gang rape, homosexuality, transvestism and domestic violence. It was the subject of an important obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was banned in Italy.
Last Exit to Brooklyn is divided into six parts that can, more or less, be read separately. Each part is prefaced with a passage from the Bible.
- Another Day, Another Dollar: A gang of young Brooklyn hoodlums hang around an all-night cafe and get into a vicious fight with a group of US Army soldiers on leave.
- The Queen Is Dead: Georgette, a transvestite hooker, is thrown out of the family home by her brother and tries to attract the attention of a hoodlum named Vinnie at a benzedrine-driven party.
- And Baby Makes Three: An alcoholic father tries to keep good spirits and maintain his family’s marriage traditions after his daughter becomes pregnant and then marries a motorcycle mechanic.
- Tralala: The title character of an earlier Selby short story, she is a young Brooklyn prostitute who makes a living propositioning sailors in bars and stealing their money. In perhaps the novel’s most notorious scene, she is gang-raped after a night of heavy drinking.
- Strike: Harry, a machinist in a factory, becomes a local official in the union. A closeted homosexual, he abuses his wife and gets in fights to convince himself that he is a man. He gains a temporary status and importance during a long strike, and uses the union's money to entertain the young street punks and buy the company of drag queens.
- Landsend: Described as a “coda” for the book, this section presents the intertwined, yet ordinary day of numerous denizens in a housing project.
Last Exit to Brooklyn was written in an idiosyncratic style that ignores most conventions of grammar. Selby wrote most of the prose as if it were a story told from one friend to another at a bar rather than a novel, using coarse and casual language. He used slang-like conjunctions of words, such as tahell for "to hell" and yago for "you go." The paragraphs were often written in a stream of consciousness style with many parentheses and fragments. Selby often indented new paragraphs to the middle or end of the line.
Also, Selby did not use quotation marks to distinguish dialogue but instead merely blended it into the text and a slash instead of an apostrophe mark for contractions and did not use an apostrophe at all for possessives.
Last Exit to Brooklyn started as The Queen is Dead, one of several short stories Selby wrote about people he had met around Brooklyn while working as a copywriter and general laborer. The piece was published in three literary magazines in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Tralala also appeared in The Provincetown Review in 1961 and drew some intense criticism.
The rights for the British edition were acquired by Marion Boyars and John Calder and the novel ended up in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The manuscript was published in January 1966, received positive reviews and sold almost 14,000 copies. The director of Blackwell's bookshop in Oxford complained to the DPP about the detailed depictions of brutality and cruelty in the book but the DPP did not pursue the allegations.
Sir Cyril Black, the then Conservative Member of Parliament for Wimbledon, initiated a private prosecution of the novel before Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court, under judge Leo Gradwell. The public prosecutor brought an action under Section 3 of the Obscene Publications Act. During the hearing the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate ordered that all copies of the book within the Magistrate's Court be seized. Not a single bookseller possessed a copy, but the publishing offices of Calder and Boyars, within the Bow Street Magistrate's jurisdiction, were discovered to be in possession of three copies. The books were duly seized, and Mrs. Boyars was summonsed to show cause why "the said articles" should not be forfeited. Expert witnesses spoke, "unprecedentedly," for the prosecution: they included the publishers Sir Basil Blackwell and Robert Maxwell. On the defense side were the scholars Al Alvarez II, and professor Frank Kermode, who had previously compared the work to Dickens. Others who provided rebuttal evidence included H. Montgomery Hyde.
The order had no effect beyond the borders of the Marlborough Street Court — the London neighborhood of Soho. At the hearing Calder declared that the book would continue to be published and would be sold everywhere else outside of that jurisdiction. In response the prosecutor brought criminal charges under Section 2 of the Act, which entitled the defendants to trial by jury under Section 4.
The jury was all male. Judge Graham Rigers directed that the women "might be embarrassed at having to read a book which dealt with homosexuality, prostitution, drug-taking and sexual perversion." The trial lasted nine days; on November 23 the jury returned a guilty verdict.
In 1968, an appeal issued by the lawyer and writer John Mortimer resulted in a judgment by Mr Justice Lane which reversed the ruling. The case marked a turning point in British censorship laws. By that time, the novel had sold over 33,000 hardback and 500,000 paperback copies in the United States.
- Last Exit on Brooklyn, a Seattle coffeehouse named in homage to the book.
- Last Exit to Springfield, an episode of The Simpsons, which parodied the title.
- Alt-J, British band composed a song entitled "Fitzpleasure," inspired by the novel.
- Driving Dead Girl, Belgian band composed a song entitled "Vinnie and the morphine," inspired by the book.
- The publication date for the first edition of Last Exit to Brooklyn is often given as 1964, however it appears the novel was originally published in 1957. See Allan Vorda, "Examining the Disease: An Interview with Hubert Selby, Jr." The Literary Review, Vol. 35, Issue 2, Winter 1992, pp. 288-302, at p. 292 ("Portions of Last Exit to Brooklyn were copyrighted as early as 1957....").
- DePalma, Anthony. "Hubert Selby Jr. Dies at 75; Wrote 'Last Exit to Brooklyn'", The New York Times, April 27, 2004.
- Homberger, Eric (28 April 2004). "Hubert Selby Jr". The Guardian.
- Forell, Claude. "A Noble Crusader for Purity." The Age Literary Review, March 25, 1967.
- Newburn, Tim (1992). Permission and Regulation: Law and Morals in Post-War Britain. London: Routledge, pp. 96-8. Google Books
- H. Montgomery Hyde, Last Exit To Brooklyn, The Times, 6 December 1967
- "Obituaries: Hubert Selby, Jr.", The Times, April 28, 2004.