Review: Requiem for a Dream

A harrowing tale of addiction

A harrowing tale of addiction

I recently read the 100 best first lines from novels and noticed it’s missing the following: “Harry locked his mother in the closet”. It instantly gives the impression of a troubled relationship between mother and son. It’s direct, extreme, but it’s not the most disturbing thing to happen in Requiem for a Dream.

It’s a dirty, seedy world of drugs and sex – “He just lay there with his eyes closed listening to the exciting squish of joint against snatch” – it’s not exactly romantic.

Requiem for a Dream tells the story of Harry and his best friend Tyrone C. Love – heroin addicts in New York desperate for money to get a fix – Harry even pawns his mother’s TV so he can buy dope. It’s not the easiest of reads not only because of the subject matter but also because there are large chunks of text without punctuation.

In the beginning there’s some hope, Harry’s mother Sara is looking forward to appearing on a game show and Harry and his girlfriend Marion are planning to start a business. Marion is an interesting character – she is the most together. Her therapist, on finding out she’s using drugs, puts it best: “But youre so young and bright and talented. I mean, youre not like those… those people who roam the streets mugging old ladies for enough money to get dope. Youre cultured and delicate.”

Sara’s story is also absorbing. She is struggling with an addiction to pills in a desperate bid to loose weight as she slowly starts to descend into madness. Her story is harrowing and her fate is frightening.

Half way through the book and I start to find it difficult to tell reality from the characters dreams but maybe that’s author Hubert Selby Jr’s wish. I wonder too, if he meant for me to see the characters through a colourful filter – which is how I imagine they see themselves – when in reality they live in a squalid world where the curtains are always drawn.

The book shows how easily it is to get hooked on drugs without realizing it: “Harry and Tyrone dug those dudes and shook their heads, knowing they would never get that bad, that they would never get strung out and live just for shit” – but it’s clear they are in denial, the heroin comes first, it comes between relationships and friendships, they breakdown and you don’t even notice.

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