‘Tralala’ by Hubert Selby, Jr

There was a gnarly guy named Kenneth who was in my English class in college. He had a shaved head, a fetish for plastic buttons and lived on a diet of bongs and Kraft cheese slices. Importantly, he also had a flat where me and my mates could go and drink vodka and listen to records. To say his flat was monastic, is an understatement – stained mattress in the living room, bare floorboards, cigarette butts everywhere – but he had a ton of vinyl and even more books. Mounds of them, all piled up in precarious piles, floor to ceiling. It was here I discovered Thomas Pynchon, Aleister Crowley, William Blake, Plutarch, Alexander Trocchi. It was like the best, most fucked up, library ever. It was also where I discovered – Kenneth’s hero – Hubert Selby, Jr. He, reluctantly, gave me a loan of his dog-eared copy of ‘Last Exit to Brooklyn’.

Which brings me to ‘Tralala’. 

She picks up sailors, takes them to a room, knocks them unconscious then robs them. Her world is bleak and unrelenting, like a fever dream that keeps escalating and escalating, but you can’t look away. The horrifying last paragraph of the story provoked an intense, almost violent, physical reaction from me. I carried the image of it with me for days. Weeks. Took me a decade before I could brace myself to read it again.

Some stories can be parasites that infect you and alter your DNA a little. 

First published in Last Exit to Brooklyn, 1964, Grove Press)

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