Hubert Selby Jr. (New York, 1928-Los Angeles, 2004) was 15 years old when he left school and joined the merchant marine, and 19 when tuberculosis returned him to the mainland, prostrated him on a bed, left him without some ribs and made him lose part of a lung. His early addiction to heroin was the consequence of a medical deviation of the time: at that time it was considered a powerful painkiller. The writer chained all kinds of works while turning to literature. He was an insurance salesman, a copywriter, a gas station clerk. Then he married, had a daughter, and took care of her while his wife worked, because there was not much he could do with that lung condition that only required him to consume, and which, in turn, consumed him.
The first thing he managed to complete was a collection of stories that three decades later would give name to the most famous album by The Smiths, The Queen Is Dead. That handful of stories was the germ of his first novel, Last departure for Brooklyn (1964), actually a collage of muscular and twisted narratives of losers lost in their at times very dark, at times delusional, mental labyrinths. The book hit the foundations of political correctness in such a way that it was banned in Italy.
One of his stories, tol-de-rol, I had finished with the editor of the magazine The Provincetown Review in jail accused of selling pornography to minors. The United Kingdom also took him to trial, but before the court he had an illustrious defender: Anthony Burgess himself, author of A clockwork orange. In Spain, the novel was published in 1988 by Anagrama (which will soon reissue it) and would end up becoming a classic of film dirty realism, a story that its editor, Jorge Herralde, defines as “an atrocious document from the wildest area of New York “
“Selby Jr. is a modern Dostoevsky”, assures Alejandro Roque, editor at Hermida Editores, who has just published The song of the silent snow, the author’s only storybook, hitherto unpublished in Spanish. Says Daniel Osca, the editor of Requiem for a Dream (which Sajalín is now recovering), that “a kind of black legend” hangs over Selby Jr. in Spain because, to date, two of the four publishers that had published any of his books – there are five of his titles in circulation and each one has been released by a different label— they have had to close: Huacánamo and Ediciones Escalera. Scary? “No, not at all,” says Roque. Herralde has not done so badly in Anagrama.
After debuting with overwhelming success in 1964, Selby Jr. (New York, 1928-2004) disappeared for six years. He returned in 1971 with a novel, The room, in which he entered the mind of an irate criminal awaiting trial. Their atrocities reduced to hilarious children’s games the misadventures of the angry and marginal protagonists of Last departure for Brooklyn. That same decade he would publish The demon Y Requiem for a Dream, and then it would disappear again until 1986.
As one of his most illustrious disciples, Richard Price (The Wire), Selby Jr. did nothing but “humanize the apparently inhuman”, that is, take the human being as the mighty wild animal that he is, and ask himself how he hides what he hides, and how he cannot hide it from himself . Its characters – yokes, prostitutes, bored office workers, transvestites – want to believe that they can escape failure, that the American dream exists and when they discover that it is nothing more than a mirage they fall into the well of addiction, that it is nothing more than an attempt to escape. Some, like the Harry White of The demon, they collect conquests to destroy. Others, like the other Harry in the story Fortune cookie, cookies that always lie.
His style, defiant in the use of capital letters, in the indefinite punctuation, in the constant incorrectness, may have made him a writer of writers, because his fame was never that of Jack Kerouac – despite the fact that he shared an agent with him – in part, because he was late to beat, but also because his world is different, and the way he builds it, too.
“Reading to him is an experience,” says Osca. “You don’t just read a story: you are inside that story, in the heads of those characters. You live what they have lived, and exactly how they have done it ”. “His conscience was a lucid conscience ahead of its time,” Roque says, and that, he adds, “is what the world needs today.”
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.