Hubert Selby Jr. The Willow Tree

ISBN 13: 9780714531397

The Willow Tree

3.91 avg rating
( 566 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780714531397: The Willow Tree

“A major American novelist of a stature with William Burroughs and Joseph Heller.”—Los Angeles Times

Bobby is young and black. Barely a teenager, he is old beyond his years. The best thing in Bobby’s life is Maria, his Hispanic girlfriend.

However, their lives are irrevocably shattered when a vicious Hispanic street gang attack the couple. 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.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

The first novel in 12 years from the once-notorious author of Last Exit to Brooklyn is an embarrassingly cartoonish amalgam of West Side Story, Edward Lewis Wallant's The Pawnbroker, and--I kid you not--Dickens's A Christmas Carol. It's the story, told in Selby's characteristic long, claustrophobic paragraphs filled with unpunctuated run-on sentences, of a young black teenager rescued from the murderous hatred that threatens his own life by a lonely concentration camp survivor. Bobby and his Hispanic girlfriend Maria are savagely beaten by a gang of spic muthahfuckahs and left in the street to die. Maria does not survive, but Bobby is rescued by an elderly widowed handyman, Werner Schultz (who for obscure reasons calls himself ``Moishe''), who restores him to health, then tries to dissuade the anguished kid from seeking revenge. As Bobby regains his strength, Moishe gradually reveals the details of his family's imprisonment, their liberation from the camp and new life in America, and the loss of Moishe's only son to the Vietnam War. Bobby subsequently tracks down Maria's murderer, but, at the crucial moment, is unable to kill him. This simplistic novel's flaws are too numerous for brief summary. Suffice it to say that glaring improbabilities (Moishe's basement apartment contains, among other wonders, a workout room and Jacuzzi) and unrelenting sentimentality make it impossible to believe in the reality of Selby's characters, much less feel anything for them. Brief glimpses of Bobby's fatherless family and Maria's grieving women relatives are only token attempts to vary a sluggish narrative that resorts to such bathetic effects as a cleansing snowstorm that briefly obliterates the city's grime and Moishe's makeshift Christmas celebration, which presumably dries up the last remaining flecks of Bobby's ``righteous'' anger. Almost 40 years ago, Selby produced a white-hot vision of America's mean streets that remains a classic illustration of realistic fiction at its most brutally eloquent. It's becoming increasingly apparent that he's fated to be remembered as a one-book wonder. -- Copyright 1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

More than a decade after the publication of his story collection Song of the Silent Snow, Selby (Last Exit to Brooklyn) returns with a breathless and unconvincing tale of the fall and redemption of Bobby, a black teenager in the Bronx. At the start of the novel, Bobby and his girlfriend, Maria, are attacked by a Hispanic gang in punishment for their cross-ethnic dating. Bobby is beaten with a chain; Maria has lye thrown in her face and eventually dies. Refusing to be hospitalized, Bobby falls into the care of Moishe (aka Werner Schultz), a widower who survived the concentration camps (he claims, however, that he is not a Jew) and the death of his son in Vietnam. While Bobby plots an elaborate revenge against the Hispanic gang, Moishe seeks to impress on him the dangers of hatred and the importance of forgiveness, lessons he learned in the camps. Best read as a sort of fable, Selby's novel renders few details of ghetto life: the characters' incessant slang rings false, and the story's exact moment remains fuzzy (though the fact that the street weapons of choice appear to be knives and chains rather than semi-automatics would seem to put it somewhere in the past). Selby's characteristically chaotic prose removes the story even further from reality. What the novel does have is genuine passion, and Moishe's deep belief in forgiveness and acceptance win our sympathy, if not our belief.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Hubert Selby Jr.
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