Book Review: Waiting Period by Hubert Selby Jr.
What does a man do when he’s reached the point of no return, and the only solution is death’s sweet release? Worse, what happens to that man when the release he expects never comes?
Hubert Selby, Jr. is no stranger to the darker side of human nature. His novel Waiting Period is a disturbing firsthand account of how far someone can be pushed when they feel they’ve hit bottom.
A veteran struggling with his absolute lack of appreciation for life and constantly being terrorized by his memories decides the best way out is death. Fed up with trying to stomach the world that sickens him, he visits a gun store. Due to a computer glitch, however, he is unable to return home with a firearm – he has to wait until the electronic background check clears. During this waiting period, the veteran’s depression hits rock bottom … until he realizes the problem is not with himself, but with others. Deciding to rid the world of these wrongdoers, he awakens a new and rewarding path in his life. Planning these vindictive killings becomes his obsession, his reason to get up in the morning, his renewed zest for life. Once he begins, however, he finds he must keep descending this dark path if he himself wants to live.
Delivered in stream-of-consciousness, Waiting Period is a nonstop downward spiral of obsessive-compulsive aggression and psychosis. Bearing witness to the depths of the narrator’s despair demands empathy. The further down he digs himself, however, the story engorges with big briar patches of nightmarish syntax and structure, woefully entangling the reader. Shelby’s writing is dizzyingly convoluted, often sending you spiraling down your own rabbit holes of thought – much like the protagonist, however distracted from him you may become as you fight to follow the narrative.
Even without the benefit of airtight execution, Shelby crafts Waiting Period into a practical cautionary tale of an ordinary man at his breaking point. The capacity of the human psyche for sadism and havoc, as we see with our narrator, is unnerving. Despite the difficulty of staying engaged by the actual book, its plot is clever and chilling at its core.
Rating: 2 out of 5