The Willow Tree

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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...

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The Willow Tree: A Novel

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Famous for his 1964 Warholian masterpiece, Last Exit to Brooklyn, Selby hangs his sixth novel on a sometimes precious plot made famous in the 1966 Henry Hathaway film Nevada Smith. Five pages into the book, South Bronx teenager Bobby and his girlfriend, Maria, are jumped by four Latinos led by Raul, who beat Bobby with a chain and throw lye into Maria's face. When she is disfigured, Maria commits suicide, and Bobby, who has taken refuge with Holocaust survivor Moishe, vows revenge. Moishe teaches Bobby about the debilitating effects of hate; when the opportunity comes for Bobby to kill Raul, he rejects it. One reads Selby's work for the stylehis prose seems like verbal jazz riffsand the story is secondary. Though not for the faint of heart, this book is recommended for literary collections and those strong on contemporary urban stories.Harold Augenbraum, Mercantile Lib. of New York
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 þspic muthahfuckahsþ 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 brieflyobliterates 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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582340289
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 6/19/1999
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.73 (d)

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