The Willow Tree – Hubert Selby Jr.

Published January 22, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Bobby is young and black. He shares a cramped apartment in the south Bronx with his mother, his younger siblings and the ceaselessly scratching rats that infest the walls behind his bed. Barely a teenager, he is old beyond his years. The best thing in Bobby’s life is Maria, his Hispanic friend. They are in love, and they have big plans for the summer ahead. Their lives are irrevocably shattered when a vicious Hispanic street gang attack the couple as they walk to school. With Bobby savagely beaten and Maria lying in hospital, terrified and engulfed by the pain of her badly burned face, The Willow Tree takes the reader on a volcanically powerful trip through the lives of America’s dispossessed inner-city dwellers. Into this bleak and smouldering hinterland, however, Selby introduces a small but vital note of love and compassion. When Bobby’s bruised and bloodied body is discovered by Moishe, an aged concentration camp survivor, an unlikely friendship begins. As Moishe slowly, painfully, reveals his own tragic story, Bobby struggles angrily with his desperate need for revenge.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to NetGalley and Open Road Integrated Media who gave me the opportunity to read this novel recently. To be perfectly honest, when I first started it, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue but I was determined to give it a fair shot, and I’m really glad I did, as by about 40 percent through (kindle-speak), I was quite hooked and intrigued to know how the story would continue. In a nutshell, this is a contemporary work of fiction about a young black boy called Bobby who lives quite an impoverished life in the Bronx, sharing an apartment with his many younger siblings, his mother, (no sign of a father figure anywhere), and some rats, who used to terrify him when he was younger but sadly as he has got used to them, they have become part of the furniture. There is a ray of light in Bobby’s life however, his Hispanic girlfriend Maria whom he adores, until one dreadful day, when a gang of Hispanic boys don’t take too kindly to the fact that someone of their race is with a black boyfriend, and beat Bobby to a pulp, while others throw acid into the face of his girlfriend, burning and disfiguring her permanently.

Bobby’s battered body is found by an old gentleman called Moishe, who is a concentration camp survivor, and takes Bobby back to his apartment, nursing him back to health. As Bobby slowly recovers under the kindness of Moishe, he is told the extent of what has happened to Maria (and it’s worse than you think) and becomes hell-bent on revenge. Moishe desperately wants to help Bobby, and dissuade him from retaliating with violence so tells him his own sad story, which is horrific, but shows a different way of dealing with pent-up emotions when they threaten to overwhelm you.

This is the first book that I’ve read by Hubert Selby Jr. although I’m familiar with his other works, Requiem For A Dream and Last Exit To Brooklyn. As I mentioned before, I really wasn’t sure about the style of writing at the start of this book, but somehow the author managed to win me over! There are no speech marks used, so the whole thing reads almost like a stream of consciousness, which I didn’t like at the start, but gradually got used to. I think the author evokes the setting and the voices of the characters beautifully, and I did find myself eager to know how the story would end. He paints quite a bleak view of life in general, and the utter hopelessness and futility of day to day living, scratching out an existence, paralleling with the author’s own early life experiences. It’s dark, it’s dramatic, and I will definitely be picking up another book by Hubert Selby Jr. Just be prepared, it’s not an easy ride!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



4 comments on “The Willow Tree – Hubert Selby Jr.

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