Addiction and Talent in Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

Seriously, what is the world coming to? This book really got to me, perhaps more than any other book. Murakami’s The Wind Up Bird Chronicle left me completely on edge after reading (that well was terrifying), but Hubert Selby Jr. does something entirely different. The scary thing is that we can relate to everything he writes. We know that we spend too many hours in front of the television and pop too many supposedly magic pills. Our society is led by addiction, and this is something the majority of us seem to welcome.

“Harry locked his mother in the closet” – these are perhaps my favourite opening literary lines ever written. They’re so matter-of-fact and blunt that you can hardly think to question the content. Is acting like this normal? I’m sure many of us have at some point considered doing something similar. The deterioration of human values as a result of addiction, consumerism and material objects is all too apparent here, alongside in our own lives. 

Nonetheless, Harry and Marion’s aspirations are contagious. They’re such complex and creative people, and I began envying Marion’s artistic ability and potential. She’s one of those mysterious, beautiful girls who has everything before her. My favourite passage of the book was early on, when she’s thinking of her travels in Italy:

“It was then, for the first time in her life, that she felt alive, really and truly alive, like she had a reason for existing, a purpose in her life and she had realized that purpose and would now pursue it and dedicate her life to it. All that summer and fall she painted, mornings, afternoons, evenings, then walked around the streets that were still echoing the music of the masters, and every stone, every pebble seemed to have a life and reason of its own and somehow she felt, though vaguely, a part of that reason.”

Marion and Harry are so talented. Yet they are characters prone to addiction. Drugs heighten their creativity and senses, and enable them to escape the stress and pressures of modern society. However, they are effectively consumed by modernity – and the drug industry – in the process of doing so. Requiem for a Dream is a novel of contradiction, loss and mourning, and it’s so upsetting to see the characters lose all ambition and promise. 

“I suspect there will never be a requiem for a dream, simply because it will destroy us before we have the opportunity to mourn it’s passing.”

4.5 stars
Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.