Monday, April 18, 2011


by Robert Dunbar.
Published by Uninvited Books.

Adolescence is often described as a journey of discovery, a journey in which we attempt to define ourselves. We collect the traits impressed upon us by others and then stretch and test those impressions in order to forge the adult we will become. In Willy, the latest novel by Robert Dunbar (The Pines, Martyrs & Monsters), we witness the coming of age of a troubled young man who must make this journey in relative isolation and under the tutelage of one who may not be the savior he appears to be.

Our unnamed narrator is sent to an obscure private school, the apparent end-of-the-line for both the disturbed boys that are deposited there and for the disaffected and cynical adults that maintain the crumbling facility. The narrator is a sensitive and introverted youth who has apparently had behavioral problems in other schools as well as thoughts of suicide. He is encouraged to keep a journal of his thoughts by his former psychologist—it is this journal that forms the narrative of the novel. Soon he meets his new roommate, Willy, a brilliant and charismatic young man who takes the narrator under his wing and forces him out of his self-imposed exile. Through the journal we witness the narrator’s blossoming as both a writer and as a person. Willy challenges him to reach beyond the “reality” of the isolated and warped school community. As Willy and the protagonist grow closer, the narrator begins to believe that Willy may be leading him toward a reality far darker than he is prepared to experience.

Dunbar’s characterization and prose brilliantly capture the internal world of the narrator. The world that we view through his eyes is stark, sinister, and secretive. Dunbar fully immerses the reader in the narrator’s point of view. There are no false notes, no instances in which the reader is taken out of the mind of the protagonist. However, this limited point of view makes portions of the book extremely cryptic. Many plot questions are left unanswered—or, if answers are available, they are hidden by a narrator who often lacks the capacity to report the full import of what he is witnessing. For some readers these questions will inspire multiple readings and spirited discussion. For others it may invoke frustration and confusion.

Nevertheless, Dunbar’s prose is lyrical, suspenseful, and immersive. Willy is a tour-de-force of style, character, and atmosphere and is definitely an example of an author attempting to stretch the boundaries of the genre.

Buy it here.

Or Visit Robert Dunbar.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

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