Critical Context

Last Exit to Brooklyn was Selby’s first novel and was very controversial because of its frank depiction of homosexuality, wife and child abuse, drug abuse, street violence, and language. There was an obscenity trial in England over the novel upon its release there; an R-rated movie version was released in 1989. The book’s author took his cues from his life experiences. Selby continued writing on the violent topics in Last Exit to Brooklyn in The Room (1971), which is about a small-time criminal in a holding cell. Selby’s third novel, The Demon (1976), is about Harry White, who leads a life of escalating crime ending in murder. His fourth novel, Requiem for a Dream (1978), describes the downward spiral of four addicts. His 1986 Song of the Silent Snow is a collection of fifteen short stories about the character Harry, who is portrayed differently in each story. Selby also made a spoken-word recording, Live in Europe 1989, with Henry Rollins, a performance artist with whom Selby toured Europe; the recording contains selections from Last Exit to Brooklyn. Selby expressed the rage and outspoken criticism common to much of the other literature of the Beat generation. Such Beat artists as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who made their names in t1950’s, thus stand as precursors to Selby.