His friends called him Harry the Lover. But Harry would not screw just anyone. It had to be a woman... a married woman.
They were less trouble. When they were with Harry, they knew what they were there for. No wining or dining. No romancing. If they expected this, they were sadly mistaken; and if they started asking questions about his life or indicated in any way that they wanted to start an "affair," he went his merry way. Harry did not want any involvements or encumbrances, no hassles. He wanted what he wanted when he wanted it, then leave with a smile on his face and a wave of the hand.
-- Hubert Selby, Jr., The Demon
So read The Demon. That's my mind in a nutshell. That's me. That's what would happen if I didn't have self control... I love that book. I was flipping out as I was reading it! I was screaming with delight!
-- Andy Kaufman
1976 novel by Hubert Selby, his precursor to Requiem for a Dream, published two years later. Famous, among other things, for being Andy Kaufman's favorite book, as seen in the quote above.
Contains mildly revealing plot points, which may or may not be spoilers, as they are revealed in most reviews of the novel.
Harry White, a low-level executive at the Lancet Corporation, is trying to negotiate between his ambition to rise to the top of the company's food chain with his, uhm, strong sexual urges. In his late twenties, White refuses to settle down and still lives with his parents in Brooklyn, spending his nights and weekends chasing married women, having one brief and noncommittal affair after another, sometimes at the expense of his work. This erratic behavior of his makes White a risk for the company - time and again he gets passed over for promotion, receiving not too subtle hints from his superiors that a wholesome stabilizing marriage might be beneficial for him and his future by making him a more consistent and reliable worker.
White meets Linda, a secretary at Lancet, at a company outing. Linda is a virgin, and wants to stay that way until marriage, rebuffing Harry's sexual advances. This only makes Harry want her more, not carnally, but on what he perceives as a deeper level, hinting at a mammoth-sized Madonna-Whore complex, developed later in the book. They are soon married.
Thus begins the heart of the book, depicting Harry's advancement through the ranks of the corporation and the corresponding material success, coinciding with the reawakening of the titular Demon inside of him. Selby draws an unmistakable line between materialism and inner turmoil, between Harry's ambition to achieve a vague success, his inability to cope with such success once it is achieved, and his growing dependency on keeping himself constantly aroused with obsessive, sometimes illicit, behavior. If before he was married White made do with casual affairs, a year into his marriage Harry starts drawing away from his wife and children, and requires increasingly extreme stimulations to keep himself motivated and focused on his work. He goes through adultery, petty crime, slumming, etc, each activity calming him down for a limited amount of time, each bringing him one stop closer to, well, bigger things, you know.
On a more subjective note, the first half of the novel is as good as it sounds, or better, while the second half isn't. Instead it's shamefully hackneyed and contrived, not to say preachy and coy. I'm apparently the perfect reader for The Demon and would've been really susceptible to whatever the fuck it's trying to do if it just went ahead and did it. Instead it's repetitive, boring and sentimental with purposefully flat characterizations. I guess Selby only had one decent novel in him, which was Last Exit to Brooklyn, and it was downhill from there, as The Willow Tree, a later Selby novel, and the only other one I read so far, is an even more extreme example of this tendency. The most interesting thing about The Demon is how well it fits the role of the missing link between Jim Thompson's Lou Ford (The Killer Inside Me) and Bret Easton Ellis' Patrick Bateman (American Psycho). And that is, in itself, quite an achievement.