Every few years there is a book that is released which immediately feels like a classic – something readers will re-visit over and over again, always discovering new things within the magical words on the page. This year, that book is My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh.
Readers need only to reach the final sentence of the first chapter to become fully invested and completely mesmerized by this debut novel. On the most basic level, it is the story of an investigation into the rape of a young girl named Lindy Simpson. Four males all become suspects at different times for different reasons. But this crime is really not the point of the novel.
My Sunshine Away is another is a grand tradition of coming-of-age novels which use crime as a backdrop against which to tell its tale. Like Harper Lee did in To Kill A Mockingbird, M. O. Walsh documents the maturation of our unnamed narrator as he witnesses the way his Louisiana town handles the ramification of violence within its confined community.
Walsh is a master of the written word. The atmosphere he is able to build with just a few words is transformative. Readers will almost feel the sweat dripping from their bodies as they read his evocative rendering of the mugginess and heat of that Louisiana summer in 1989. Readers will reflect back on their own lives as the milestones in the narrator’s life are told in precise, yet sparse, detail. Take for example the way Walsh recounts the Challenger disaster. No one who lived through that moment will be able to remain unemotional during his re-telling.
Family life plays a huge part in the tale and readers will no doubt relate to the various relationships within the central group. Our narrators kinship and conflict with his divorced parents and sisters – one of whom died earlier in a tragic car accident – is so realistically presented that one almost expects to see them at the next neighborhood gathering.
Since the story involves the rape of a young girl, readers with sensitivity to this topic should approach with caution. That said, M. O. Walsh addresses the topic with sensitivity. The narrator’s discovery of the erotic and sexual side of his self gains added power and poignance when juxtaposed with the sexual violence which shatters his youthful, idyllic outlook.
In the end, My Sunshine Away is really a memory piece. M. O. Walsh uses non-linear remembrances to document one portrait of adolescence. With a writing style that is reminiscent of Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou, M.O. Walsh has added to the canon of Southern literature another classic which readers will enjoy re-reading – especially as we wait to see what he writes for an encore.
_____________________________________________________________________ Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher (at BookExpo America). No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.