Title: Requiem for a Dream
Author: Hubert Selby Jr.
Review: The opening to Requiem for a Dream was great, but we see that Harry and Tyrone already have addiction and are going to greater and greater lengths to get the money that fuels their habit, including take possession from Harry’s mother and selling them. We can see from the offset that most of the relationship that will be presented within this book will be extremely toxic. Harry’s relationship with his mother is horrid he constantly steals from her to fund his habit and completely fails to recognise the signs of depression within his own mother. Harry’s friends are also a bad influence as they all do heroin and there isn’t a single person Harry is close to that doesn’t shoot up, this would make it nearly impossible for him to get off drugs.
As we approach the ¼ mark in the novel we see the characters under the influence of various drugs and how it makes them feel. We also get to delve deeper into the different types of pleasure the characters experience from the pleasure of eating, the pleasures of company and the pleasure of being physical intimate with another person. Not a lot has happened so far other than the introduction of the characters, introduction into their addiction and daily routines and many scenes of drug induced daydreams, thoughts and actions but having seen the movie I know there was so many great scenes to come. We get to live inside the characters’ heads in this novel but the writing style isn’t for everyone, it reminds me of James Joyce with a lack of structure and grammar, there aren’t any chapters, minimal paragraphing and no “ ” when characters are talking so if this would bug you or put you off reading this book isn’t for you but if you can get past the way the book is written it is quite enjoyable.
As we cross the ¼ mark in the novel we see the differences in addiction based on a person’s age. The three younger characters; Harry, Tyrone and Marion feel invincible in their joint euphoria to the point where they feel they can do anything and everything. For a time this euphoria is the only thing they need and while not “addicted” to a specific drug all take a mixture of different drugs on a regular basis. While the older character; Sara aka Harry’s mother finds herself wanting to go on a diet ready for a TV appearance and it’s her subsequent obsession with her weight that ultimately leads to her addiction. At this stage in the novel we begin to delve deeper in the psychological aspects of the book delving with addiction, race and the perfection that society demands for all. The first character we see descend into a form of madness, much to my surprise was Sara. Sara’s descent begins after she starts her diet, she begins to hallucinate that the fridge is talking to her and they have quite long conversations at times, these scenes are disturbing because there has been a specific mention of Sara taking any drugs other than a brief mention of diet pills earlier on. This means her psychosis was present before she was even introduced to her drug addiction really highlighting how vulnerable she is and how easily someone could take advantage of her as Harry has done in the past.
As we approach the half way mark in the novel we see Marion emerging as a very interesting character. Unlike Harry and Tyrone she hasn’t had to hustle for money as her parents are quite well off and they send her $50 a week which is more than enough for her to live a decent lifestyle, it also helps she has some other sources. She even agrees to lend Harry and Tyrone $100 to go with the $400 they have earnt in order to buy a large amount of drugs to sell and theoretically make more money than they laid out. And before they know it they are exchanging 75 G’s worth of cash for heroin and the group quickly establishes themselves as the best drug dealers in town, there are masses of people lining up to buy their product and the money begins rolling in and for a while they live the high life without a care in the world. They keep their habits in check making sure not to use too much of their own product as they need their wits about them when they are pedalling on the street. Although everything seems to be going great for the group right now we can practically feel something is going to go wrong very soon.
As we cross into the second half of the novel we see Harry talk to his mother about the diet pills she has been taking and is quickly becoming addicted to and he worries for her, although it does feel a little hypocritical as Harry is a drug dealer and taker himself although his mother either ignores this or is unaware of his drug using. I felt the relationship between Harry and Sara was strained at best they are almost bipolar in their nature; one minute they are laughing and smiling and the next they are arguing but despite this both love each other very much. So while most of the relationships in this novel are toxic this one is the least toxic in my opinion so far in the novel. When the descent for all the characters begins you literally feel a weight on your heart. Sara’s hallucinations get worse when she starts taking her pills all at once rather than throughout the day caused her to be restless and paranoid. The younger characters actually try to stop using heroin and they succeed for a little while but as the withdrawal sets in the only thing they can do is shoot up. This is made worse when they can’t get their hands on the good drugs and have to take more of the lower quality stuff in order to get the same high. One thing I do like about this book is that the friendship while toxic are really strong, when Tyrone gets arrested Harry is there almost immediately to bail him out and not just because they are working together, he does it because he knows Tyrone would do the same thing if Harry was stuck in a cell.
As we approach the ¾ mark in the novel we see all the characters struggled to control their addictions. As the city’s supply of heroin gets lower and lower, almost running dry it’s not only their customers but the characters themselves dealing with withdrawal and not being able to score. This goes on for a little while until Harry practically begs Marion to meet up with a male friend who gave her money before; Arnold, in return for the money Marion has to sleep with him and this ultimately drives a wedge between her and Harry but all either cares about is drowning their feelings in a heroin induced euphoria and forget about all the other stuff going on in their lives. Sara is the first of the four protagonists to crack she is hospitalized and ends up on the psych ward although one of the doctors highlights that she should be in medical but is threatened with him job forcing him to go along with the recommended plan of electroshock therapy for her.
As we cross into the final section of the novel we see for people hit rock bottom. Sara is given electroshock therapy and becomes a shell of the woman she once was much to the shock of her friends. Marion begins selling herself in exchange for drugs even participating in depraved parties to satisfy her habit. Harry and Tyrone head south in search of better drugs where they are caught by the police after trying to get a doctor to treat an infection in Harry’s arm. Tyrone ends up as part of a chain gang and Harry ends up losing his arm. While three lives were completely and utterly destroyed by drugs, Marion is the only one that continues to live life the way she has in the past few months.
Overall, I would advise you not to read this book if you aren’t comfortable with graphic descriptions of drug use and sexual acts. While being a very hard book to read Requiem for a Dream is most definitely worth the time and effort the reader needs to put into it.
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