Written by: Drake Morgan
I have an obsessive passion for books. My friends know this and supply my need. That does mean however, that I have so many books on my computer that it threatens to overload regularly. It also means that my to-read queue is rather long. I received Willy as a Christmas present and it entered the ever-growing list. After reading James Keen’s review of The Shore, I decided to dig Willy out of the vault.
Providing a summary for this book is almost as challenging as reading the first few pages. We have an unnamed protagonist shunted into a decaying school for wayward boys. The entire novel is in first-person. Our unnamed boy keeps a journal and this is what we the readers are privy to as the novel itself. Normally I balk at first-person, but Dunbar makes it work here. Initially the entries are unreadable nonsense. The boy has been repeatedly written off by a broken system. He’s roomed with the mysterious Willy and as the novel progresses, Willy helps him sort out life, both figuratively and literally.
The first-person narrative works here because it allows Dunbar to maintain the mystery necessary to make this work. The essential question in this novel comes down to reality. What is real, imagined, or supernatural? Is Willy real or does our damaged child imagine him? We only see the boy’s perspective so there is no outside verification of anything in the novel. At one point, I even wondered if anything here was real. What if this boy is in an asylum making it all up? His own imagination at work? Dunbar weaves a tale of fantasy, unreality, insanity, and possibilities that leave the reader dazzled. Even the climatic ending (no spoilers here) is rife with ambiguity and raises even more questions about the authenticity of the boy’s narrative.
This is a complex, challenging read. There’s no gore, splatter, or violence. It’s dark, disturbing, and haunting. It’s a novel that I will pull off the shelves again knowing I’ve missed something., but realizing there will never be answers. A must-read.
Order Willy right here!