Selby, Hubert, Jr. 1928–
American writer of fiction, author of Last Exit to Brooklyn. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 15-16.)
Hubert Selby's The Room is very obscene, in inventive as well as boring ways, and it too will attract readers who really shouldn't be there. Here point of view is all, as Selby ransacks the paranoid mind of a prisoner waiting to be tried, apparently on a minor charge. I say "apparently" because this is one of those novels that accord merely "objective" details very little status. The prisoner fantasizes endlessly….
And Selby, who in Last Exit to Brooklyn so impressively showed his power to imagine psychosexual extremity and the lurid despairs inside seemingly commonplace souls, gives this prisoner plenty to think about, as he dreams up hideous vengeances on cops, women, and the other authority figures of his humiliating history.
But it's terribly difficult to render, from inside, dull and resourceless minds like this one. The trick is not to suggest that such people really are richly aware and sensitive when you get to know them, down there beneath the impassive, inarticulate surface. Few writers even come close—offhand I think only of Defoe, Flaubert, and Joyce, which is select company. Selby is a conscientious craftsman—the raw immediacy of Last Exit was sustained by a remarkable sense of structure and timing. But, like everyone else, he's no Joyce, and The Room falls short of its ambitions….
The Room is powerful and disturbing even so, but the boundaries of Selby's art and moral vision are too large to be filled up by a single commonplace mind, psychopathic or not.
Thomas R. Edwards, "The Real Thing," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1972 by NYREV, Inc.), March 9, 1972, pp. 19-20.
Hubert Selby, you cannot fail to recall, wrote a tremendous, multi-facet book named Last Exit to Brooklyn. As you will recall with greater clarity still, that book was unsuccessfully prosecuted by some gaga weirdos whose idea of the contemporary novel begins with Jean Plaidy and ends with Penelope Mortimer (bless their nylons)….
However, despite all the rape, bestiality, brutal sadism, mutilations and manglings, no one could read this novel [The Room, Selby's second book] without knowing that they have been through a strange and harrowing trip of unimaginable pathos. Not despite the untempered psychotic violence of the work but because of it….
Although Selby's writing assumes many textures, from sequential exposition to raging curses relentlessly smeared on with a palette knife, the book itself is both organic and indivisible. It is considerably more than its parts. It is a soul stripped bare, flinching and wincing and screaming and bleeding and struggling for breath. Scarcely a let-up, with very few moments of even recollected delight. Not a happy book but an unavoidable one. Maybe even a great one.
Duncan Fallowell, "A Soul Stripped Bare," in Books and Bookmen, May, 1972, pp. 54-5.