by Carole McKellar
This month - a review of one of the most talked-about books in the country by first-time novelist M.O. Walsh
"My Sunshine Away" - a novel by M.O. Walsh
M.O. Walsh took the title of his book from the lyrics of the song, “You Are My Sunshine,” written by the former governor of Louisiana, Jimmie Davis.
This atmospheric Louisiana novel is set in Baton Rouge, the state capital. The story begins in 1989 with a crime, the rape of a fifteen year old girl. Central to the story is a 14-year-old boy who fantasized about the girl, Lindy Simpson, and watched her movements through their neighborhood. He admits early in the telling that he was a suspect in the crime. The rape took place in the dark, and Lindy could not identify her assailant, leaving the neighborhood with its speculations. This book is more than merely a crime drama, however. It is a story of memory and the narrative we create of our childhood.
The narrator of this story is unnamed, but he is the grown man recalling this life-defining event. The style is informal and conversational. His description of the life of a privileged boy growing up in the south feels authentic. One pivotal event in the story centered around the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. The reactions of the students and teachers watching television in class brought back vivid memories of that tragedy. Neighborhood street games, mosquito control trucks, and backyard barbecues evoke the sound and smell of a Southern childhood.
Our storyteller’s youth included trauma not centered on the rape, since his family life is far from perfect. The upscale neighborhood of his youth was not as idyllic as it seemed on the surface either. At times the guilt expressed by the narrator seemed puzzling. He described himself as a suspect, his infatuation with Lindy caused him to do some suspicious things, but he never seemed capable of committing the crime. While he became something of a peeping Tom, this appeared to be the indiscretions of a foolish teenage boy.
The novel is suspenseful and maintained my interest from the beginning. One chapter diverged into an explanation of the differences between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. That chapter seemed ancillary to the story, but highly entertaining as an essay. The conclusion demonstrated that a fulfilling life is possible in spite of traumatic experiences.
I had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of this novel, which won’t be published until some time in mid-February. The author, M.O. Walsh, is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi and is currently the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at The University of New Orleans. He grew up in Baton Rouge, but currently lives in New Orleans with his family. His stories and essays have appeared in several periodicals, but this is his first novel.
About M.O. Walsh
M.O. Walsh was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His stories and essays have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, Epoch, and Greensboro Review. His short stories have also been anthologized in Best New American Voices, Bar Stories, Best of the Net and Louisiana in Words.