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The novel takes a harsh, uncompromising look at lower class Brooklyn in the s written in a brusque, everyman style of prose. Critics and fellow writers praised the book on its release. Due to its frank portrayals of taboo subjects, such as drug use, street violence , gang rape , homosexuality , transvestism and domestic violence it was the subject of an obscenity trial in the United Kingdom and was banned in Italy.
The stories are set almost entirely in what is now considered the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn; the location is widely misreported as Red Hook , where one story is set and parts of the movie were filmed. Each part is prefaced with a passage from the Bible. Last Exit to Brooklyn was written in an idiosyncratic style that ignores most conventions of grammar. Selby wrote most of the prose as if it were a story told from one friend to another at a bar rather than a novel, using coarse and casual language.
He used slang -like conjunctions of words, such as tahell for "to hell" and yago for "you go. Selby often indented new paragraphs to the middle or end of the line. Also, Selby did not use quotation marks to distinguish dialogue but instead merely blended it into the text. He used a slash instead of an apostrophe mark for contractions and did not use an apostrophe at all for possessives. Last Exit to Brooklyn started as The Queen is Dead, one of several short stories Selby wrote about people he had met around Brooklyn while working as a copywriter and general laborer.
The piece was published in three literary magazines in the late s and early s. Tralala also appeared in The Provincetown Review in and drew criticism.
The pieces later evolved into the full-length book, which was published in by Grove Press , which had previously published such controversial authors as William S. Burroughs and Henry Miller. Critics praised and censured the publication. Poet Allen Ginsberg said that it will "explode like a rusty hellish bombshell over America and still be eagerly read in a hundred years. The rights for the British edition were acquired by Marion Boyars and John Calder and the novel ended up in the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions.