Requiem for a Dream

Requiem for a Dream
By Hubert Selby Jr.

This is the story of Harry, his mother, and addiction in America.

Harry, his best friend Tyrone, and his leading lady (for the moment) Marion are all profoundly tangled in the world of illegal drugs. They use, they sell, they would and will do just about anything to get their fix.

In many ways, their stories are just about what you would expect, save for subtle and thoughtful insight into their perspectives on their lives and behaviors. There is a believable rise and a believably tragic fall.

Where things are less expected are with his mother, Sara. Sara loves and cherishes her son, and while she tries to maintain denial about his drug use, he continually involves her by stealing and pawning her television. The stress is too much, despite her attempts to cover it.

But her story also involves the use of legal drugs. She gets a call informing her that she may be chosen to participate on a game show. In order to look her best, she starts taking diet pills. Her drugs are the ones available to regular people every single day: over the counter drug pills, coffee, cigarettes... the stuff that we try to convince ourselves is harmless and somehow better than any illegal substances.

The most genius aspect of this book is also what makes it an enormous challenge to read: the writing style. Selby brilliantly uses the structure and sound in his writing to reflect his characters' dispositions as well as the stress/tension of their situations. When they are sober and lucid, so is the writing. When they begin to tumble into trouble, when they are high, when they are panicked, when they are jumbled and confused and desperate, so is the writing style. This could mean pages and pages on end where it is unclear who is speaking to whom, no punctuation, no distinction between narration and dialogue, etc.

Artistically and in terms of method: brilliant and beautiful.

Readability and in terms of ease of reading: difficult to swallow.

But I get that this is part of the point. I felt just as jumbled and out of control. I wanted an anchor to ground me. I needed something steady, but the deeper into the book I got, the less steady ground I had in sight.

It required a lot of breaks.

Read it, but be prepared to have to grab on to something to hold you steady.

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