antonin artaud

21 Transgressive Books (Part 2)


Daulton Dickey.

(This is part two of a 3 part series. Read part one here. Read part three here.)

Transgressive fiction is a genre of literature which focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual or illicit ways

Without spending too much time elaborating on theories w/r/t transgressive fiction, the above quote is from Wikipedia. Succinct, it offers a broad enough outline to convey the gist of this often ill-defined subset of fiction.

This isn’t a definitive list. It’s also not intended as authoritative. Instead, it’s a list of some transgressive books that have inspired me as a writer—and a person—over the years. Although I should clarify that I don’t love every book on this list. In fact, I find some of them repugnant, their authors appalling, but they’ve still affected me in one way or the other.

If you haven’t read much transgressive fiction, you should do yourself a favor a take a detour into world funny and strange, terrifying, awe-inspiring, and disturbing.

Although this list deals primarily with fiction, I’ve decided to include a few important works of non-fiction and poetry.

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby, Jr.
(Grove Press, 1964)

lastexittobrooklynFew writers excel at producing bleak material. Hubert Selby, Jr., is one of them. In his dirge to life on the fringes, Last Exit to Brooklyn is likely to leave an impression on everyone who reads it.

Populated by transvestites, the addicted, psychopaths, and the downtrodden, Selby’s classic examines life on the margins. While not a novel in the traditional sense, Last Exit is a collection of stories connected by themes and the city of Brooklyn.

This is a frank and honest portrayal of life on the margins. More importantly, it’s a depiction of the consequences of poverty in the richest nation on the planet. The material proved shocking to audiences in the early 60s. To people in the middle class, riding the high of the post-war, post-Eisenhower boom, such dregs of society serve no place in a civilized country.

But the characters Selby portrays—many of whom were based on people he knew—are not victims of their own excesses and poor choices. They’re victims of their social strata. Alcoholism and drug use, violent crime and depression and suicide are correlates of poverty. It’s easy to overlook the notion that these people developed in a social prison imposed on them by those with power or money. It’s much harder to recognize them as symptoms of a nihilistic nation obsessed with limiting the distribution of money and opportunity.

A brutal and unflinching book, Last Exit to Brooklyn is a must read, a harrowing tale of people left behind by a first world power. (more…)