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Dostoevsky in Disneyland

June 14, 1998|Stephen Lemons

Hubert Selby Jr., the critically acclaimed author of such searing novels as "Last Exit to Brooklyn" and "Requiem for a Dream," will turn 70 in July. His first novel in 20 years, "The Willow Tree," due out this month from Marion Boyars, is a tale of redemption through forgiveness set in the South Bronx. Selby has also made fans in the spoken-word crowd with a CD, "Hubert Selby Jr.: Live in Europe '89," on Henry Rollins' label. We spoke to the author in his modest West Hollywood apartment, where he has lived for the past decade.

Q: Your fiction is usually set in New York; why do you live in L.A.?

A: Right now, I just can't live in New York. I was back there in December of '95. I almost died. Couldn't breathe. Couldn't move. I just can't take the weather. But I sure do love it. The people back there are so alive, so imaginative, so hip. Out here, it's like everything is Oklahoma. But I do like it. I have a lot of friends. All ex-New Yorkers. Bitchin' about the place, but still here.

Q: Isn't Henry Rollins one of your L.A. friends?

A: Oh, yeah, we've been friends at least 10 years. He's a very bright guy, very intelligent. I really dig Henry.

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Q: Was it Rollins' idea to record you?

A: Yeah. He's the one that made it possible for me to do readings. I think the first time was the old Lhasa Club [in Hollywood]. We closed it the last weekend that it was open. Then we did the tour of Europe.

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Q: "The Willow Tree" attempts to resolve the anger and violence in your previous work. Why this departure?

A: My first four books are pathological. In each, I've gone as far into the darkness as I can. There's no answer--not even a catharsis. This time, I wanted to go into the darkness again but, hopefully, show how it can take you to the light.

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Q: What's the fate of serious literature in the U.S.?

A: I guess it's hitting a low ebb--a very, very low ebb. Right now, the economy is good, which means nobody is interested in art. I'm sure there are as many good writers as ever. It's becoming increasingly difficult to find that out. I think that's part of the cycle. Eventually, we'll have publishers ready for literature again.

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Q: What do you say to aspiring writers in the meantime?

A: Learn how to earn a living. That would always be my encouragement.

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Hubert Selby Jr. will read from "The Willow Tree" on Friday, June 19, at 7 p.m. at Skylight Books, 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Feliz.

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