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Requiem for a Dream (Penguin Modern Classics) Paperback – 26 Apr 2012
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Selby's place is in the front rank of American novelists ... to understand his work is to understand the anguish of America (New York Times Book Review)
Selby deploys street slang, common speech, argot and scatology to create a high poetic art ... it seems to derive from the greatest American poetry--Whitman, Pound, Williams, and Olson (The Nation)
Selby brings a scorching light to a limited area of human existence, which most people know of but do not know (Newsweek)
About the Author
Hubert Selby, Jr. was born in Brooklyn in 1928. At the age of 15, he dropped out of school and went to sea with the merchant marines. While at sea he was diagnosed with lung disease. With no other way to make a living, he decided to try writing: 'I knew the alphabet. Maybe I could be a writer.' In 1964 he completed his first book, Last Exit to Brooklyn, which has since become a cult classic. In 1966, it was the subject of an obscenity trial in the UK. His other books include The Room, The Demon, Requiem for a Dream, Song of the Silent Snow, The Willow Tree and Waiting Period. In 2000, Requiem for a Dream starred Jared Leto and Ellen Burstyn and was directed by Darren Aronofsky. Hubert Selby Jr died in Highland Park, Los Angeles, California in April 2004.
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Top customer reviews
A couple months later I picked the book back up, and somehow, the story gradually began to flow off the page and into my head. It really is an incredible story, and the writing style is so unique.
The book manages to convey an immense amount of life in very few pages. I give it my highest recommendation. This is a work of art.
Title: Requiem for a Dream
Author: Hubert Selby Jr.
Review: The opening to Requiem for a Dream was great, but we see that Harry and Tyrone already have addiction and are going to greater and greater lengths to get the money that fuels their habit, including take possession from Harry’s mother and selling them. We can see from the offset that most of the relationship that will be presented within this book will be extremely toxic. Harry’s relationship with his mother is horrid he constantly steals from her to fund his habit and completely fails to recognise the signs of depression within his own mother. Harry’s friends are also a bad influence as they all do heroin and there isn’t a single person Harry is close to that doesn’t shoot up, this would make it nearly impossible for him to get off drugs.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel we see the characters under the influence of various drugs and how it makes them feel. We also get to delve deeper into the different types of pleasure the characters experience from the pleasure of eating, the pleasures of company and the pleasure of being physical intimate with another person. Not a lot has happened so far other than the introduction of the characters, introduction into their addiction and daily routines and many scenes of drug induced daydreams, thoughts and actions but having seen the movie I know there was so many great scenes to come. We get to live inside the characters’ heads in this novel but the writing style isn’t for everyone, it reminds me of James Joyce with a lack of structure and grammar, there aren’t any chapters, minimal paragraphing and no “ ” when characters are talking so if this would bug you or put you off reading this book isn’t for you but if you can get past the way the book is written it is quite enjoyable.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel we see the differences in addiction based on a person’s age. The three younger characters; Harry, Tyrone and Marion feel invincible in their joint euphoria to the point where they feel they can do anything and everything. For a time this euphoria is the only thing they need and while not “addicted” to a specific drug all take a mixture of different drugs on a regular basis. While the older character; Sara aka Harry’s mother finds herself wanting to go on a diet ready for a TV appearance and it’s her subsequent obsession with her weight that ultimately leads to her addiction. At this stage in the novel we begin to delve deeper in the psychological aspects of the book delving with addiction, race and the perfection that society demands for all. The first character we see descend into a form of madness, much to my surprise was Sara. Sara’s descent begins after she starts her diet, she begins to hallucinate that the fridge is talking to her and they have quite long conversations at times, these scenes are disturbing because there has been a specific mention of Sara taking any drugs other than a brief mention of diet pills earlier on. This means her psychosis was present before she was even introduced to her drug addiction really highlighting how vulnerable she is and how easily someone could take advantage of her as Harry has done in the past.
As we approach the half way mark in the novel we see Marion emerging as a very interesting character. Unlike Harry and Tyrone she hasn’t had to hustle for money as her parents are quite well off and they send her $50 a week which is more than enough for her to live a decent lifestyle, it also helps she has some other sources. She even agrees to lend Harry and Tyrone $100 to go with the $400 they have earnt in order to buy a large amount of drugs to sell and theoretically make more money than they laid out. And before they know it they are exchanging 75 G’s worth of cash for heroin and the group quickly establishes themselves as the best drug dealers in town, there are masses of people lining up to buy their product and the money begins rolling in and for a while they live the high life without a care in the world. They keep their habits in check making sure not to use too much of their own product as they need their wits about them when they are pedalling on the street. Although everything seems to be going great for the group right now we can practically feel something is going to go wrong very soon.
As we cross into the second half of the novel we see Harry talk to his mother about the diet pills she has been taking and is quickly becoming addicted to and he worries for her, although it does feel a little hypocritical as Harry is a drug dealer and taker himself although his mother either ignores this or is unaware of his drug using. I felt the relationship between Harry and Sara was strained at best they are almost bipolar in their nature; one minute they are laughing and smiling and the next they are arguing but despite this both love each other very much. So while most of the relationships in this novel are toxic this one is the least toxic in my opinion so far in the novel. When the descent for all the characters begins you literally feel a weight on your heart. Sara’s hallucinations get worse when she starts taking her pills all at once rather than throughout the day caused her to be restless and paranoid. The younger characters actually try to stop using heroin and they succeed for a little while but as the withdrawal sets in the only thing they can do is shoot up. This is made worse when they can’t get their hands on the good drugs and have to take more of the lower quality stuff in order to get the same high. One thing I do like about this book is that the friendship while toxic are really strong, when Tyrone gets arrested Harry is there almost immediately to bail him out and not just because they are working together, he does it because he knows Tyrone would do the same thing if Harry was stuck in a cell.
As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel we see all the characters struggled to control their addictions. As the city’s supply of heroin gets lower and lower, almost running dry it’s not only their customers but the characters themselves dealing with withdrawal and not being able to score. This goes on for a little while until Harry practically begs Marion to meet up with a male friend who gave her money before; Arnold, in return for the money Marion has to sleep with him and this ultimately drives a wedge between her and Harry but all either cares about is drowning their feelings in a heroin induced euphoria and forget about all the other stuff going on in their lives. Sara is the first of the four protagonists to crack she is hospitalized and ends up on the psych ward although one of the doctors highlights that she should be in medical but is threatened with him job forcing him to go along with the recommended plan of electroshock therapy for her.
As we cross into the final section of the novel we see for people hit rock bottom. Sara is given electroshock therapy and becomes a shell of the woman she once was much to the shock of her friends. Marion begins selling herself in exchange for drugs even participating in depraved parties to satisfy her habit. Harry and Tyrone head south in search of better drugs where they are caught by the police after trying to get a doctor to treat an infection in Harry’s arm. Tyrone ends up as part of a chain gang and Harry ends up losing his arm. While three lives were completely and utterly destroyed by drugs, Marion is the only one that continues to live life the way she has in the past few months.
Overall, I would advise you not to read this book if you aren’t comfortable with graphic descriptions of drug use and sexual acts. While being a very hard book to read Requiem for a Dream is most definitely worth the time and effort the reader needs to put into it.
Unfortunately, I watched the film before reading the book. I say unfortunately not because the film is a bad one. In fact, it's one of my favourite films of all time. It was unfortunate because the book is even better than the film that followed, with more layers to the characters.
That's not to say that Aronofsky's adaptation is an example of surface over substance. Whilst it's true that as an Amazon reviewer brilliantly described, the film is an 'assault on the senses', it is still a tragedy, just like the book. The problem I have is with film in general, in that you only have around 165 minutes max, or in this case, 100, to get to the depths of a character.
Because whilst Requiem for a Dream has been described as the ultimate anti-drugs advert, I would argue that where the novel succeeds even more than the film is that it is also a story about dreams, and in particular, misplaced ones.
Indeed, whilst reading Hubert Selby's story, I was reminded several times of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby. In the classic novel, Jay Gatsby is always brooding over the 'green light', which is a symbol of his love for the careless Daisy Buchanan.
Sara Goldfarb's misplaced dream is to be on television. As a widow and a mother of a son, Harry, who is more interested in get rich quick schemes than tending to his increasingly isolated parent, Sara's only stimulation is her television. The television is the centre of her universe, with her watching game shows fanatically, looking up to those who appear on them.
The characters in this novel are so rich that it makes me cringe to mention something as clinical as a 'message', but I do think Selby was trying to say something about television. Published thirty-five years ago, this message seems even more relevant today, considering the large section of the public obsessed with vacuous reality television and talent shows.
Harry's false dream, along with best friend Tyrone, is to get rich quick. Early on in the book, Harry talks with girlfriend Marion about opening a café franchise. He appears to be serious about the idea, but as his heroin addiction starts to take hold, he neglects it, instead preferring to chase a quick buck by stashing drugs and selling them off at a high price when the street supply is short.
Ultimately, Harry ends up being responsible for the misery of both his mother and his girlfriend, becoming so desperate for a fix that he encourages Marion into prostitution. The irony of course is that Harry had everything he needed at the beginning of the novel: his mother's and his girlfriend's love. If only he had been less self-centred, then the fates of his mother and his girlfriend would have been much happier ones.
After reading the novel, I would still describe Requiem as a tragedy, but I would argue that it is more about the tragedy of misplaced dreams than the one of drug addiction. In this case, misplaced dreams do lead to addiction, but I think we can all relate to the idea of having wasted time chasing something we didn't need in the first place.
Much like with the film, anyone who reads this novel would be put off taking drugs for life, but at its essence, this story is more than about the terrible consequences of addiction. It's also about people failing to appreciate what they have. Namely, we are talking about relationships, which Harry should have realised provide more warmth in life than heroin ever can.
Requiem is a brilliant novel, up there in terms of its grittiness and relevance with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. A must read.
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