41 pages 1 hour read

Hubert Selby Jr.

Last Exit to Brooklyn

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1964

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Summary and Study Guide


Last Exit to Brooklyn is a 1958 novel by Hubert Selby Jr. Set in the Brooklyn borough of New York City in the 1950s, the novel portrays the interconnected lives of the residents. The loosely connected stories involve crime, violence, and poverty, as well as drug-use, sex work, and sexual assault. The novel was criticized for its graphic portrayal of controversial themes, resulting in several court cases in the United States and the United Kingdom, and was banned in Italy. The book has since received popular acclaim and was adapted into a film in 1989.

Plot Summary

Part 1 of Last Exit to Brooklyn is titled “Another Day, Another Dollar.” The story depicts a gang of young men who spend their time at a Greek diner run by a man named Alex. The Brooklyn diner features in many of the stories in the novel. The unemployed young men spend their evenings at the diner, arguing with Alex and bickering with one another. When sailors and soldiers from the nearby military base pass by, the young men argue with them and occasionally fight them.

The gang includes two men named Tony and Harry, who complain about the music, take careful care of their hair, and chase after women. Cars and women are the men’s most frequent topics of conversation, though the conversations occasionally break down into violent games involving the men hitting and jostling with one another. One of the men, named Freddie, flirts with a young sex worker named Rosie, knowing that she is obsessed with him. He insults and mistreats her but likes to show off to his friends that Rosie thinks he is handsome. One evening, Rosie follows Freddie outside. He acts violently toward Rosie, prompting some passing military men to intervene. The gang from the diner beat the military men, badly hurting one of them. The police arrive and break up the fight, leaving a pool of blood and vomit on the ground.

Part 2 is titled “The Queen is Dead.” The story portrays the life of a transgender woman named Georgette who is in love with a man named Vinnie. Both Vinnie and Georgette spend time in the Greek diner, where they flirt a little, but Vinnie always rejects Georgette. Even though people abuse and mock her at the diner, she would rather spend time there than return home to her family, as her brother routinely threatens her with violence. One night, Vinnie teases Georgette by throwing a knife at her feet. The knife hits her in the leg, and Vinnie insists that she go home to recover. Despite Georgette’s protests, Vinnie and his friend bundle her into a taxi and then deposit her on her doorstep. At home, Georgette goes through drug withdrawal and endures abuse from her brother while she recovers.

Eventually unable to tolerate being in the house, she visits her friends. They decide to throw a party, and Georgette asks them to invite Vinnie. The party continues throughout the night until Georgette can barely distinguish fantasy from reality. She fixates on Vinnie and eventually convinces him to have sex with her. Afterward, however, she realizes that she mistakenly had sex with one of Vinnie’s friends. Shocked and inebriated, she stumbles out into the street and wanders through the cold. The narrative hints at a fatal morphine overdose.

Part 3 is titled “And Baby Makes it Three.” The story involves a young couple named Tommy and Suzy who get married when Tommy impregnates Suzy. Suzy’s father, after first being displeased with the marriage, eventually decides to throw a large party for the wedding and the christening of his granddaughter. Tommy, a motorcycle enthusiast, deals with his friend Spook who is obsessed with motorcycles but can’t afford one for himself. On the day of the party, Spook is allowed to ride Tommy’s motorcycle. Tommy offers Spook a ride on his motorcycle during the party—but, when Spook runs to find his hat, Tommy rides away with a young woman named Roberta.

Part 4 is titled “Tralala.” The titular character is a sex worker who takes an indifferent attitude toward sex, which she believes allows her to succeed at her job. Annoyed at her poverty, Tralala decides to copy her friends’ criminality: She lures her clients into compromising situations, knocks them unconscious, and steals their wallets. When one man complains, Tralala and her friends in the Greek diner beat him. Tralala meets a military officer who treats her to expensive gifts. After he leaves, however, she struggles to return to her disenfranchised lifestyle. She begins a self-destructive binge of alcohol, sex, and drugs. Eventually, she becomes so inebriated that men take advantage of her. She is gang raped in a parking lot by a long line of men.

Part 5 is titled “Strike.” The story portrays the life of a factory worker named Harry Black, who finds married life inexplicably unsatisfying. He is very involved in his workplace union to the point where his insistence on the rules annoys his bosses and coworkers. When a strike is called in the factory, the union puts him in charge of the local office. The bosses want to continue the strike until they can fire Harry. As the strike drags on, Harry realizes that he can charge all his expenses to the union. He orders kegs of beer and drinks with his colleagues as well as the petty criminals from the Greek diner who introduce him to a transgender woman. Harry becomes obsessed with gay men and transgender women, and he visits bars and has sexual relationships with these women. When the strike ends, however, Harry can no longer spend so much money and charge it to the union. His relationship with a transgender woman named Regina ends, and he becomes desperate. He sexually assaults a 10-year-old boy, so the men from the Greek diner beat Harry to a pulp and leave him in a parking lot.

Part 6 is titled “Coda.” The chapter portrays the interconnected lives of the residents of a public housing estate in Brooklyn. The residents include frustrated housewives, a mourning widow, and a couple who constantly shouts. One of the residents is a man named Abraham, who spends all his family’s money on himself and his car. One night, he has an affair with a sexually voracious woman and returns home late the next day. His wife is angry with him, but he ignores her at first and then hits her. Abraham finally falls asleep alone in his bed, ignoring his family.