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Author of Last Exit to Brooklyn, Requiem for a Dream, The Demon, Song of the Silent Snow, and The Willow Tree, writing in the 1950s and 1960s. Requiem for a Dream was adapted for the screen by Selby and Darren Aronofsky (who also directed the film), starring Ellen Burstyn, Jared Leto, Jennifer Connelly, and Marlon Wayans. The film was released in 2000 and in my opinion was the best film released that year. Last Exit to Brooklyn was also adapted into a film with Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Selby is known for writing controversially intense material, usually dealing in some part with a Hell on Earth situation or lifestyle. For example, here is an excerpt from an interview about The Room, which is a novel narrated in psuedo-stream of consciousness by a man in a jail:

Chris Campion: With the sections of extreme sadism in The Room, especially the dog training sequence, how do you feel either when you're writing it or when you're reading it back?
Hubert Selby, Jr.: Ohh! Sick. Sick. Sick! I'll never forget that experience. See, when I sit down to write a book, it's all in my head someplace. I have the last line written more or less. You kind of have a sense of what's coming up. But when that came on the page, that dog thing, I was shocked! I had no idea I was going to go into that. Nothing prepared me for it. My immediate reaction to it was: 'I'm not going to write this!' But I had long ago made a commitment to myself that if it comes to mind, it goes on the paper ... So I went ahead and did it and, ultimately, it worked perfectly in the book, so I had to leave it in there. But, oh, I think that book's the most disturbing book ever written by a human being! I'm telling you ... That's a tough book. A really tough book.

As for Selby's writing style, he writes in, as mentioned above, a psuedo-stream of consciousness. He indents his paragraphs with alternating lengths. Some might not be indented at all, some might be pushed to the end of the line. He neglects the use of apostrophes and uses "/"s instead, and doesn't use quotation marks at all. To complicate his dialogue even further, new speakers aren't put in new paragraphs, and often times nothing denotes a shift from a character speaking to his narration. This means that dialogue consists of a huge blocky paragraph with only topical clues and dialectic mannerisms seperating characters. While sometimes confusing, it's actually quite enjoyable to read.

In the DVD of Requiem for a Dream, Darren Aronofksy writes:

I was a public school kid from Brooklyn facing my first exams during freshman year of college, and I was terrified. High school was a joke ... So, when college came around I wasn't very prepared. I hit the library and tried to learn. But Selby fucked everything up. From sentence one I was done, and so were my finals. I blew them off and read. I read and I read and I screamed and I connected and I recited and I rejoiced ... This was a deep yet simple examination of what makes us human.

On the director's audio commentary of the film, Aronofsky relates a story of he and Selby writing the final scenes in the film. Discussing how intensely they wanted to portray the ending, Aronofsky paraphrases Selby as saying (I myself paraphrase Aronofsky), "The characters must suffer, and the audience must see them suffering, and we have to make it apparent that they will continue to suffer long after the film has ended." Selby is in the film appropriately abusing one of his own characters near the end.

My first experience with Hubert was about a year and a half ago when I rented out "Requiem for a Dream". For some reason I can't remember, I was playing around with the extras on the DVD before I ever watched the film itself, and came across an interview with him. I watched it, and it started out normally. He talked about his illnesses - of which he's had many, and then he came to a quote that burned into my brain. It started:

One day I had an extraordinarily profound experience, one more "real" than I had ever had. I experienced the fact that some day I was going to die, And just before I died, two things would happen:

Being the cynical bastard I was at the time, and not knowing anything about the guy or his work, I thought that I was just about to be inundated with schmaltz - something about true love, or Heaven or whatever. Man, I was wrong:

One, I would regret my entire life; Two, I would want to live my life over again, and then I would die.

This was like a punch in the face. I was bewildered by this little frail guy in a chair, and the sheer rawness of those words. At that point I knew that Hubert was my kinda guy. It was this experience that apparently made him start writing. We're all the better off for it.

The film, by the way, was excellent.

  • This quote also appears in the introduction to my version of "Last Exit to Brooklyn", along with more stuff about his life and works. Apparently the guy had 10 ribs removed after getting pneumonia. 10 ribs! Fuck! I would also like to point out to those concerned that I am no longer a cynical bastard.

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