Hubert Selby's 1978 novel "Requiem for a Dream" must certainly rank as one of the most effective depictions of addiction ever written. A critically acclaimed film of the same name, released in 2000 and directed by Darren Aronofsky, has brought more attention to the novel. Although I have yet to see the film, I decided to read the book before watching the movie because I wanted to know what dark visions await me when I finally slide that DVD into the player. If the story is any indication, the film promises a devastating experience. This is not a sunshine and smiles book. It is an unflinching look at addiction and its consequences.
There are four central characters in "Requiem for a Dream." There is Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow who spends her days watching television, eating chocolate covered cherries, and pining for her late husband Seymour. Harry Goldfarb, Sara's black sheep of a son, is another main character. Harry's circle of acquaintances includes his girlfriend Marion, an intelligent, attractive young girl with a talent for painting but paralyzed with defeatist and self-loathing feelings. Harry's best friend is Tyrone C. Love, a young black man who grew up poor in Harlem but would like to escape from the harsh realities of the street. While minor characters come and go during the course of the story, Selby focuses on these four in an attempt to show the trajectory of doom associated with addiction.
Things do not seem to go very wrong throughout the first part of the book. It is summer in New York City and time for fun and sun. Harry, Tyrone, and Marion spend their time partying with their friends, listening to music, and enjoying each other's company. Sara watches her television shows and eats her candy in blissful peace, only occasionally worrying about what her son Harry is up to. Even better news lands in the laps of our four characters in short order. Sara receives a phone call from a company that finds contestants for game shows, promising her that all she need do is fill out a questionnaire and she will have the chance to appear on television. Sara is of course elated, and decides that if she really has a shot at winning some dough she should probably go on a diet and lose a few pounds in order to look her best. Meanwhile, Tyrone and Harry implement serious plans to obtain a pound of pure heroin so they can get rich and retire from street life. After putting in a grinding week working, the two earn enough money to purchase some drugs and begin dealing to people they know on the street. As the money flies in, Marion and Harry start making plans to someday open their own little business. Even though the three are users and breaking the law by dealing drugs, the future seems bright.
Then winter arrives. Things start to fall apart for Sara, Harry, Marion, and Tyrone. For Sara, an attempt at a diet found in a book does not have the expected payoff. At the recommendation of a neighbor, she goes to a local doctor who prescribes diet pills. Sara's cheery demeanor gradually erodes under the duress of non-reply from the game show company and the slavery of the pills. Harry, Marion, and Tyrone are no better off. Their heroin supply dries up, reducing the trio to scrounging for drugs just as their compulsion grows worse. The deterioration of the four protagonists quickly escalates into a bleak and depressing free fall of pain and degradation.
All four individuals suffer untold horrors by the end of the book, but I think the most pathetic account concerns Sara. Here is a lady who seems harmless, who only wants the best for her son and tries to get through lonely days laced with the pain of losing her husband. She fervently believes she will get on television if she can only muster enough self-control to quit overeating. Her naiveté about the dangers of diet pills leads to disaster merely because she has no conception that there are doctors who are quacks. Sara's innocence makes for a truly poignant story. I had less sympathy for the other three characters. Since none of them are idiots by any means, they knew the dangers of drugs but fell into the old trap of "that can't happen to me." That does not lessen the message of the book, but it does make Sara stand apart.
The writing style of the author is quite unorthodox. There are no chapters, no quotation marks, and sentences that run on for miles. This does make it difficult at first to discern who is talking and to whom, but by the time a few dozen pages pass by it makes little difference in the flow of the story. Selby instills Tyrone with a noticeable street accent, and Sara is often alone when we see the sections dealing with her, so do not worry about the format of the novel.
You cannot escape the theme of addictions in this tale. But what is interesting about it is that Selby equates all excessive compulsions. Heroin usage is as damaging to the soul as is obsessive television viewing or overeating. All have the potential to lead to utter destruction whether you are a young kid roaming the streets or a middle-aged widow who rarely leaves the apartment.
In an introduction to this edition of the book, Selby writes a powerful statement about his tale. He says that "Requiem for a Dream" is about what happens when we concern ourselves more with getting than giving in life, and that the book is an examination of what happens when people chase the illusions of the dream of consumerism and materialism instead of following the truth in their hearts. For a powerful story, look no further than this tale.
on February 4, 2005
Every now and then a book will come along that will move you in ways that are indescribable, uplifting you to the zenith of joy or dropping you into the pits of emotional hell. `Requiem' takes you to hell, slowly descending the steps as you feel life and hope and love failing, falling away from you like strips of rotting flesh.
In Darren Aronofsky's forward (Director of the movie) he mentions that the hero of this story is Addiction, and the more you read, the more you grasp the truth of these words. This really isn't a story of Sara or Harry or Marion or Tyrone, but about Addiction and how it changes their lives forever, triumphing over the good that they once held in their hearts.
Sara Goldfarb, a lonely widow, receives a phone call telling her that she has one a chance to be a contestant on a television show. With television already her constant companion, Sara becomes extremely excited and vows to loose weight so that she can fit into her red dress for the show. But loneliness and diets don't work well together, so Sara goes to a doctor and gets diet pills.
Sara's son Harry is a junkie, and when he and his friend Tyrone Love come across some `dyn-o-mite' heroin, they hatch plans to score a pound of pure, dreaming that this will be their ticket to the easier life they long for. Harry's girlfriend Marion is a wanna-be artist who is waiting for life to happen to her, and she believes she has found what she had been seeking with Harry.
Their addictions grow, eating alive everything important to our four characters, their dreams, their hopes, their love, their friendships, their health, and their souls. This is the story of a savage beast running rampant through their lives, devouring humanity without regard or regret.
What really impacted me the most was the horrors Sara and Harry suffer at the hands of medical professionals, under the brutal pretexts of pride, profit, ignorance, routine, efficiency, and prejudice. The disregard for these human lives by the doctors who run the institutions and judge the behavior over the illness is gut-wrenching in its heartlessness. The inhuman cruelty of these doctorate-carrying monsters exceeds anything their own monsters created.
Selby's prose is difficult to get into at first, unique in that it is a meandering and strewn-together style not often seen or read. Everything flows together, thoughts and spoken words, with minimal punctuation and entirely without quotation marks to indicate spoken text. Stick with it, as the story begins to unfold you will find the style lending itself to the surreal and dreamlike flow of the character's lives, and as you slide into their hopes and dreams, their cravings and failures, Selby's style becomes less and less an obstruction and more of an enhancement to the nightmare he has painted so well for us.
If you liked the movie, you will like the book, and if you like the book you will like the movie. Also of note is the stupendously dark score to the movie by The Kronos Quartet, bring audio impact to the downward spiral so artistically illustrated in `Requiem For A Dream'. Great forwards by Selby, Richard Price, and Darren Aronofsky. Enjoy!
on November 1, 2000
I've read several books, and seen several movies regarding drug addiction. But none of them compare to "Requiem for a Dream," by far the most accurate and frightening works on the subject. Selby not only gets into the mind of Sara, Harry, Marion and Tyrone, but into the monster itself: addiction. Like a cancer, addiction eats away at ones' soul and dignity.
From the beginning the characters are already in a pretty sad state - but they all have dreams. And their dreams are what keep the vicious cycle going.
Sara's story made me the saddest. She's so oblivious and so lonely; it's heartbreaking to read. I found Sara's descent so frightening in that she honestly has no clue what's happening to her. Towards the end, I would cringe when a "Sara paragraph" came up as her agony became unbearable for me.
Not to discount the others' plights. What made their stories disturbing to me was how they would constantly set new guidelines and restrictions just to keep their habits going. Their decline is so rapid and at times, hard to read. But then again, I was also facinated ("addicted"??) and couldn't put the book down.
I saw the movie first before reading the book. That being said, the actors certainly did their homework in understanding their characters. Superb performances by all four, especially Ellen Burnstyn. Hoping Hollywood will ignore the NC-17 rating a recognize those who really deserve an Oscar nod.
on April 1, 1999
Even though, on the face of it, this book may appear excessive and brutal in the latter stages, the true worth of this novel comes from its subtlety. The reader stands in the foothills of hope and glory for all 3 characters at the start, expectations high, their hope feeding into us as we watch there small lives unfold. The book has a pivot that lasts for a very short time as we see them at the pinnacle of their hopes and we are drawn into thinking it all could happen.
But with a Selby novel, you know that things will not work out the way you think. What happens is a set of events whereby with each downfall we wonder how the character got there but know that the reasons are imperceptible from the last event.
On a downward spiral, this book shows human determination in the extreme. Each person, with only one thing in mind, do anything to sustain the dream, deceiving each other and themselves.
I almost wanted to cry after reading this book, coupled with the fact that I have read most of Selby's books, I feel as if I have read the best set of books ever written about human nature, and I am hollow in the knowledge that I will not find anything quite the same
on October 31, 2002
When I opened this book, the first of Selby's I've read, I was prepared to feel sad. But there is no word for the pain and emotion I felt when I'd finished it.
The story revolves around four characters: Sara Goldfarb, a desperately lonely widow who wants nothing more than to be on a television quiz show, her junkie son Harry, his girlfriend Marion, and his best friend Tyrone C. Love.
As Harry and his friends come up with a plan to become powerful heroin dealers, Sara, the most innocent and loveable pathetic character ever, becomes addicted to diet pills, the only way she can see to loose weight so she can fit in her red dress for the television.
Each character slowly begins to descend into the hell of addiction, and as they do the reader is subject to the most brutal passages of drug abuse and false hope found in literature.
If you're one who responds to emotions in a book or a movie, read this book. It will not be forgotten.
on May 22, 2004
This is exactly the second Amazon review I have ever written. The first was written about one of my dear friends' books, and while I loved her book, I probably wouldn't have reviewed it if she hadn't been such a close friend, because I just don't have the time to sit around writing about books for Amazon.com when they aren't even paying me.
In contrast, I have NO connection with Selby whatsoever. But this book was so breathtaking I HAD to write about it. Wow. I haven't been so moved by literature since... maybe THE OUTSIDERS by SE Hinton, which I read at age 14.
Selby somehow manages to make the most depicable and unsympathetic characters engaging and even sympathetic. I was completely invested in what happened to Sara, Harry, Marion and Tyrone. Despite their incredible flaws, I was rooting for them all the way and I believed for so long that they could somehow pull it out and come out on top... but when I closed the book I realized Selby had ended the novel perfectly. Wow. I will NEVER forget this novel.
This book was so full of irony. One of the best scenes in this book was when Harry told Sara off for popping amphetamines. I had to reread that scene several times because it was so incredibly written. Another excellent scene is when Harry and Tyrone see a junkie pulling water from the toilet to shoot up with and they swear they will never stoop so low. Within pages they are doing the very same thing. Wow. Selby is on perfect pitch at every moment in this novel. And the stream-of-consciousness narration is a PERFECT choice for the subject matter. I am a writer myself with a book about to come out with a major publisher, and I am in AWE of Selby's talents. This story has that most important and most elusive element in literature, HEART. And it has a whole helluva lot of it. AMAZING book.
This book will stay in your mind long after you have closed it. In fact, you will find yourself opening it again and again, reminding yourself of the spirals of addiction and obsession that entrapped ALL of the main characters.
I am torn about this book because I want to give it to friends to read. I want to stand at the streetcorner and shove this book into the window of the first car I see. But at the same time, I selfishly know I will be opening it and rereading it in the future. So it needs to be MINE MINE MINE. That's how good this book is.
I think all high school students should be required to read this book.
Please read this book. Whether or not you are engaged in the world of drugs at all (and I was for a time) PLEASE read this book. This book will elucidate all the games that one plays in regards to any type of addiction. When I closed this book I realized we are all addicted to something, whether it is drugs, alcohol, sex, praise, the pursuit of wealth, or any other obsession. This book will be haunting me for some time and I will never forget it.
PLEASE DO YOUR MENTAL HEALTH A FAVOR AND BUY AND READ THIS BOOK!
on April 5, 2001
This is truly a timeless masterpiece by author Hubert Selby Jr. In fact that's one of the many depressing things about this book is the fact that though it was written in the late 70's, people have not wised up any in the 20 plus years since.
The book isn't so much about drug abuse as it is about people striving to make a dream come true and in effect killing any chance they may have had to obtain it.
The story follows widow, Sara Goldfarb, her son Harry and his 2 friends. Sara's dream to be on television turns into more of a nightmare after she begins taking diet pills. Harry, Marion, & Tyrone's dream is pretty simple- to score some uncut heroin in order to resale it and live off the money. Their plans too go awry when winter comes and their aren't enough drugs to go around.
Some people may not want to read such a devastatingly dark novel but the beauty of it is how real it is. Selby makes you care for characters you shouldn't who put themselves in bad situations that you can see coming, if only they could. Honestly, I can't praise this book enough.
on August 25, 2002
I saw the movie before I read the book. The movie is my favorite movie. I wanted to read the book long before their was a movie, but I had a hard time finding it. I saw the movie, loved it, and finally found a copy of the book in a bookstore. I bought it and I loved it.
It is one of the saddest books I have ever read. Selby has a talent. He shows us each of their dreams and we watch it all fall apart. He leaves little pieces of hope, but the characters fail. He lets the reader realize that their lives are over.
Selby starts the novel when the characters believe in nothing but their dreams, and we watch as everyhting falls apart. The story of the three Junkies, Marion, Tyrone and Harry are very sad, but Selby threw in another story that is absolutely horrifying. Harry's mom, Sara, becomes addicted to diet pills when she's going to be on television. She wants to wear the dress she wore at Harry's Bar Mitzvah, but she's too thin. She constanyl refers back to her dead husband Seymour and she holds onto the hope and the lie that her son is succesful.
I love the book becuase it has a warning. It is an important warning. I think of this book a lot.
Kurt Cobain described addiction a little monster, and this book uses a similar analogy. It shows how that little monster can totally destroy someone's life.
In a way this book is a horror story, a story about monsters. This just happens to be the scariest monster I've ever read about.
I would reccomend the book to anyone. It is a fascinating read, the dialogue is wonderful and the story is shocking and brutally honest. Selby is a genius.
on June 24, 2002
After I saw the adaptation of this book so brilliantly displayed by Darren Arronofsky a friend of mine went out and bought this novel. A few days later he gave it to me to read. When I asked him how it was and he said that it was good but damn near killed reduced him to tears.
I found this alittle difficult to beleive out of someone like my friend but I read the novel anyway. I however was not damn near reduced to tears. I cried like a moher cries when she loses her family in an airplane accident. This book is a drug addiction within itself. It seduces you with its rythmical poetic structure, lays you into its groove of repetition and then drags you kicking and screaming underneath with the rest of the characters.
After one paragraph in this book in which the mother, drugged out of her mind, is forced to releive herself and is left unattended for two days made my dry heave. I wanted so bad to never touch the book again but soon after picked it up and read the rest into the wee hours of the morning.
This book is nothing short of astonishing. It is not however a triump of the human spirit. I would only reccomend this book to someone with a strong stomach and psyche. Unbeleivable.
on May 29, 2005
There are books you will read in life that forever change you. Requiem was one such book. In the forward, Richard Price says that this book will make you love the unlovable. He was correct. The four characters are people who will carry with you forever. They are loveable, despite their addictive nature. True this book is about the danger of addiction, but it is also about theb danger of the American Dream. I have never read a book that has conveyed this idea so brillantly. It is a cautionary tale, as the author says in the preface, "I do not think there will ever be a requiem for the dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have a chance to morn its passing." The American Dream has no doubt claimed many lives, but the only other character I can ever remember being taken by the dream is Jay Gatsby. Requiem changed that, this is a book that will make you cry. It will destroy all hope you may have had for the character. But there is a tiny, green light. It is the humanity within us, as Darren Affronsky wrote. This book will show you the dark side of the American Dream, the lengths people will go to to have the white pickett fence. This book is not only unfogettable, it is necessary. It is necessary because it does not portray drug addicts and junkies, or women forced onto diet pills or into prostitution. It portrays people.