S.R.O. by Robert Deane Pharr


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 The latest addition to Old School Books, Norton's excellent series of reprinted pulp fiction by black authors, is the second unusual novel by Pharr, a waiter who died in 1989. Like his Giveadamn Brown, this bizarre tale of life in a Harlem SRO hotel, first published in 1971, exploits the ``pathological truths'' of the ghetto. If the anti-gay, anti-Semitic, anti-female asides seem offensive, they're nothing compared to the racial self- loathing that permeates the book. Pharr's nihilistic disgust with the junkies, pimps, whores, winos, and welfare cheats who people his incidental, naturalistic fiction is matched by his contempt for life itself. His alter-ego narrator, Sid Bailey, an alcoholic waiter and aspiring writer, finds whatever solace he can in recording the ``criminal aptitude, moral turpitude, and just plain anti-social orneriness'' that the denizens of the Logan hotel exhibit daily. Among the low-life scam artists, homicidal maniacs, and kinky sexual deviants, Bailey stands out as self- described ``pussy,'' a weak square who struggles with his very sanity. The crazy uncertainty about gender and race--whites who act black, women who act like men, etc.--completes the sense of hellacious chaos. But the toxic scuzziness doesn't wash off quickly. This ``Last Exit to Harlem'' is simply unforgettable.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-393-31706-4
Page count: 544pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998