As Selby continued to publish and write, he became more brash and angry as the stories went on. I’ve already covered the syntax he had developed as well as the first story that he wrote, The Queen is Dead, but the first story was just a primer for exploring the fictional neighborhood he had developed in his mind. Now that we had a character who had endearing qualities which are taken advantage of, we shift our focus to someone who is unable to be saved from her station in life because she chooses to continue on the path that she has chosen.
Tralala was not the next story that Selby published, but it was the first one to make a lasting impact on the literary world. It would be published, like The Queen is Dead, before it was collected inside Last Exit to Brooklyn. But, unlike the previous story, this one would become noticed outside of the literary circles that had formed in the northeastern United States during the fifties and sixties.
The story would be published in The Black Mountain Review, which had already published his first story, but it also would be picked up by The Provincetown Review. The November 1961 edition would go down in history because it was used as evidence in an obscenity trial. Due to its depiction of prostitutes and thugs, charges were brought against the owners of the review, Allen Tate, Norman Podhoretz, and Stanley Kunitz, for selling obscene material to a minor. The trial was held in 1961, but it was dismissed on appeal. The story, as well as the transcript from the trial, were both released by the Review afterward, commemorating the event as well as celebrating the win against censorship.
The reason that the story gained notoriety as quickly as it did was due to the subject matter. Selby’s love of repetition returns as he throws us back into Brooklyn and into the life of a sinister woman who has no hope or drive in her life.
Tralala opens with the revelation that our titular character looks at sex as just something to do.
Tralala was 15 the first time she was laid. There was no real passion. Just diversion.
Tralala sees the world around her for what it is: a cruel place where there is no God or hope. This is the setting that Selby has placed her in, just as he placed Georgette prior. We are already familiar with thugs like Vinny and Harry, and much like Georgette before, Tralala sees the inhabitants of the neighborhood as a way to escape her dull and sad life. Once she loses her virginity, she picks up that she can control men with her body. Not just that, but because of her early development, she is able to get boys who may have their eyes set on other girls, much to the chagrin of the other girls who occupy the park where the dirty deeds are performed.
Tralala also takes it one step further. Rather than just allowing the men to use her body, she realizes that having the boys in the neighborhood rob them after has its own perks, mainly acceptance into their group alongside food and drinks. While Georgette had to rely on her brain and personality to gain the attention of the hoodlums of the neighborhood, Tralala doesn’t have that problem. She just uses her other wares and is able to skirt by in life without troubling herself too much.
The only problem is that because Tralala spends so much time sharpening her skills of seduction and deception, she finds herself feeling stuck. She feels as if she is doing all the work. After all, it’s her body that is being used as bait, and rather than attacking multiple men to get a score, she sees herself trying to work on rolling drunks in the neighborhood by herself so she can get a larger cut.
She is able to secure her first target easily, but it doesn’t go right. She leaves with him under the assumption that he will pass out from all the booze she feeds him, but he is able to hold his drink well enough. Tralala becomes impatient and cracks him over the head with the bottle before taking his wallet. He has $50, which Tralala lies about later on when she returns to the Greek. She tells the boys there that he only had $10, and when the man comes back looking for his wallet in order to gain entry back to the Army base where he is stationed, Tralala causes a scene and the boys at the diner beat the man before Tralala joins in. Her violent nature is a foreshadowing of her own future, which will be revealed as we dive deeper into the narrative.
Tralala is preoccupied with sex and destruction. She uses sex to gain the attention of men who are then destroyed by other men, and sometimes herself. The mix of the two begins to twist into the same thing. As Tralala gets older, the acts of both escalate. She also sees that all men only want her for one thing, and that’s to satisfy their carnal urges. Because of this, Tralala feels that she can never accept sex alongside love or admiration.
We also get to see how the neighborhood operates after the scene with the soldier. The cops and MPs are brought in to search for who attacked the man. But, nothing ever comes of the attack. This contrasts with the next heist that the boys and Tralala pull off. They witness a bartender slipping money into a tin box, and after the bar is closed, they return and pry the box off the wall and steal the money inside. They count around $2,000 inside but inform Tralala that they only found $250. Just as she lied to them, they return the favor in order to keep her out of the loop. The problem that arises after that is the cops are able to find out who stole the box right away; the box belonged to the neighborhood bookie, and the boys are told as much as they are carted off in a police cruiser.
The only thing that is recognized as power in Brooklyn inside the story is money. If you have it, then you are worth something. If you don’t, then you are less than. You are no longer recognized as worthwhile.
The only thing that Tralala can focus on after the fact is that the boys were arrested before she could get her fair share of the take. She doesn’t care about the guys who she depended on for money, nor does she realize how close she herself was to joining the boys on the way to jail. She only can see what she lost out on.
Tralala does find success, but not in a sustainable fashion. She realizes that if she spends enough time with some of the servicemen, particularly the officers, then she can make more money than if she was having the drunks rolled by her friends. She just had to be patient. But, Tralala is able to see the reality of her position when she goes to pick up a john at the fancier bars in Times Square. She tries to show off her chest and get herself someone who is very well off, but when no one comes calling, she becomes bitter. She finally sees herself for what she really is, and because of that, she begins her descent even lower. She gets so worked up that when she finally does get someone to take her home, she lies in bed angry for hours after they have sex. When she tries to get money out of him the next afternoon, he laughs at her before beating her.
One thing to point out is the syntax of the story. The entirety of Tralala has no breaks for paragraphs. It is written in one huge block. Everything mixes together and then is repeated but with additional actions being tacked on. It also reflects Tralala’s life. She lives in a whirlwind, repeating the same actions over and over, not aware that the activities that she pursues are also slowly breaking her down and destroying her.
Tralala moves from entertaining one man at a time to two soldiers. They invite their friends to join in and they keep Tralala drunk. She leaves them and goes back to the bar on Times Square, but is kicked out. She goes to another bar and repeats the same actions. When she finds herself getting kicked out of every upscale bar she can find, she returns to Willie’s, the first bar she frequented, and that is where the story concludes. After taking a woman named Annie’s date as she had before in the story, she gives in to the urges of a group of men who take her out behind the bar and proceed to gang rape her. They do this while beating her until she dies, and when this happens, they abandon her body. That is when the neighborhood kids destroy what is left of her body, and the patrons of the bar who she had pestered just hours before laugh as they leave the bar and continue their night as if Tralala was never there, to begin with.
Tralala had chosen her lot in life, and since she knew nothing else from the outset of her journey, she felt no need to change. In fact, when she was able to observe the other side of life, one that included love and softness, she rejected these things in the pursuit of money and booze. Since these things are what Tralala holds the closest to her heart, she does everything she can in order to receive them, even if it means her life is being thrown away because of it.
There is only one person who shows Tralala that he sees more than what the others see, and that’s Harry, the seaman who first shows her that she doesn’t need to steal and beat the men who she takes to bed. Instead of processing this as a way out of her life of hustling, she instead folds this information into her grand plan of stealing from every man she comes across. Rather than have the men beaten, she can string them along and take the booze and money they offer her without trying to pry it out of them. What she doesn’t realize is that even though it is easier on her in regards to the work she puts out, as she no longer has to attack the men or have them attacked, she doesn’t see that the actions that she has chosen do nothing to make her grow as a person. The only thing men see her as is what she focuses on; her body, her wares, and her ability to drink as much booze as they can supply her with.
Tralala lived her life with no guidance other than she needed money to survive, and she had the ability to make men spend money on her. She was never informed that fast money goes fast. No one ever tells her that alcohol creates dependencies that can shred beauty within months. She is never informed that there is more security in building up your character rather than your image. Due to never being loved or guided, Tralala is thrown to the side and forgotten about immediately. No one remembers her, even the men who had enjoyed her services before her untimely demise.
The biggest glaring detail we should focus on is how horrible and disgusting Tralala’s death is portrayed and then compare it to just a few sentences later. No one cares that she is gone. They even look out where the body is laying and laugh, with Annie being glad she doesn’t have to deal with Tralala anymore and happy that she is still able to continue on with her night. Tralala decided to keep love completely out of her life, so when the time came for her to pass on, she found herself without it. Her death and burial happen within moments, and then her memory is discarded completely.
What we can remember from this story is that Tralala lacked love and then accepted that love was not needed to survive went hand in hand. This is why the advances from Harry come off as foreign to her. She had only been looked at one way her entire life, because of how developed she had become at an early age. She then decides that doing things the easy way and escaping her plight and position in life was more appealing than finding a man to settle down with. But really, if you look at her circumstances and the world that was constructed around her, who could blame someone for coming to those conclusions?