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Requiem for a Dream: A Novel by Hubert Selby Jr. (read in 2015)

Published by marco on

Disclaimer: these are notes I took while reading this book. They include citations I found interesting or enlightening or particularly well-written. In some cases, I’ve pointed out which of these applies to which citation; in others, I have not. Any benefit you gain from reading these notes is purely incidental to the purpose they serve of reminding me what I once read. Please see Wikipedia for a summary if I’ve failed to provide one sufficient for your purposes. If my notes serve to trigger an interest in this book, then I’m happy for you.

I’d already seen the movie and it was relatively faithful to the source material. The book is written in a rambling, near–stream-of-consciousness street patois with little punctuation and structure. The grammar is mostly OK, so you can get used to it, but it’s a bit of a challenge at first. Not as much so as the middle chapter in Cloud Atlas but it might still be off-putting for some.

tl;dr: Drugs are bad.

More precisely, addiction is bad. This film is the story of a mother, her son, his girlfriend and their best friend. Nice, huh?

Spoiler alert: the book ends with the mother strapped to a bed in a mental hospital, withdrawing from a severe amphetamine addiction, the son lies in a hospital, his left arm amputated because of a festering needle wound, the best friend is on a work gang in prison, suffering beatings and malnutrition and the girlfriend is curled up on her couch at home, cuddling her scag, earned by performing in a private sex show for her new pimp.

The mother never quite recovered from the death of her husband and the son isn’t around enough to take care of her. She spends her days watching a self-help guru’s infomercial. She gets an invitation to the show but can’t fit into her dress. She resolves to lose weight by the time she gets her actual invitation. After a day spent trying it the old-fashioned way, she makes an appointment with a diet doctor and starts her downward spiral.

The son and his friends are already well on their way, shucking and jiving for enough money to buy a stash for the night. They resolve to follow the junkie dream: they pool their cash and start selling instead of just using everything they have. This actually works OK for a while, but the friend is busted by the cops on a deal and the money they’ve saved is used for bail and nearly gone in one fell swoop. The son and his girlfriend predictably fight over the lack of drugs and he heads out with his friend to Florida to make a big score. She can’t wait that long and calls a dealer who wants women rather than money in exchange for drugs.


I like “smiled loudly” as well as “leaned into the words”.

“She giggled and squirmed and soon they both tired and just leaned against the wall, smiling loudly.”
Page 21
“Everyones eyes were half closed from the smoke and dope, and their faces kept twisting and grinning as they leaned into the words.”
Page 23
“Sometimes. Sometimes it seems to stand still. Like youre in a bag and you cant get out and somebodys always telling you that it will get better with time and time just seems to stand still and laugh at you and your pain. … And then eventually it does break and its six months later. Like you just got your summer clothes out and then its Christmas and inbetween there are ten years of pain.”
Page 37
“O man, ah dont even want to talk about work right now, not that ah ever am too hip on it, but right now ah just wants to think of Tyrone C. Love an how goooooood he feel.”
Page 61
“She went back to that restaurant on the hill in Naples and sat there for endless hours for a week, looking at Vesuvius, Capri, the bay, the sky, trying, with the desperation of the dying, to reawaken those old feelings, trying with jewels of sparkling wine to rekindle the flame that half fired her imagination just a short lifetime ago, and though the wine sparkled in the sunlight, and the moonlight, the once blazing fire was extinguished and Marion finally succumbed to the stone coldness within her.”
Page 89
“We would be watching the news and be seeing the cops beating people over the head with their clubs and my mother and father would claim it wasnt really happening or they were some sort of hippie degenerate commies. Thats the big thing with them. Everybodys a commie. Talk about freedom and human rights and youre a commie. All they want to talk about is the sacred right of the stockholder and how the police protect our property. … She took a deep breath, closed her eyes for a moment, then looked at Harry, You know, if I were to tell them about this theyd say it didnt happen, that I just made it up. She shook her head, It just amazes me how blind some people can be to the truth. Its right there in front of them and they dont see”
Page 179
“And the streets were getting tougher. All the neighborhood streets were filled with dope fiends, even in the snow and sleet, looking for something, anything. Every hallway was cluttered with sick faces with runny noses and bodies shivering with the cold and junk sickness, the cold cracking the marrow of their bones as they broke out in sweats from time to time.”
Page 189

This is really relentlessly pessimistic.; Did Nancy Reagan have a hand in writing this?

“Whatever chances they had to take they took automatically as their disease ordered and they obeyed, a small part of them wanting to try to resist, but that part shoved so far down that it was no more than an ancient dream from a previous life. Only the insatiable and insane need of the moment had any bearing on their lives, and it was that need that gave the orders.”
Page 192
“Around the hole in Harrys arm a huge greenish white lump had formed with red streaks spreading out toward his shoulder and wrist. I can hardly move the son of a bitch. Im gonta have ta do somethin man.”
Page 259

Harry loses an arm. Marion becomes a super gang-bangin’ ho. It’s a cautionary tale. Drugs are bad. Bit this is getting a bit heavy-handed.

“She tried to smile and her face started to stretch in her wide-eyed grin as little bits of spittle dribbled down her chin. He signed his name to a piece of paper and handed it back to the man. She was committed to a State Mental Hospital.”
Page 263

Drugs are bad? TV is bad? The man is bad? America is bad?

“A couple of drunks fought over the toilet, one hanging his head in the bowl, puking, the other one puking all over him, the both of them eventually passing out and lying in their own and each others puke.”
Page 269

Really? If Selby didn’t have so much drug experience under his belt, I would accuse him of deliberately making this scene more gory in order to scare kids straight.

“this guy told him if he would plead guilty to vagrancy that he would only have to serve a few weeks on the work gang. When you get out theyll give you a bus ticket back to New York. Where our money? Did you have any? Tyrone looked at him for a moment, blinking his eyes, trying to see him clearly, We had over a thousan dollars jim. Not according to this report. Tyrone stared for another moment then inwardly shrugged.”
Page 270