Sunday, March 22, 2015

Book Review - "My Sunshine Away" by M.O. Walsh

My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh is probably the best book I've read in a long time. I gave it a rare five stars in my LibraryThing catalog. I dare you to pick up this book and not be moved by it.

The pivotal event happens in 1989, but connected scenes take place earlier and later than that. They all occur in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a nice middle-class neighborhood and among private school students. On the face, this is a setting that would never expect to see a violent crime, yet one does happen, as do other less violent or public ones but ones just as harmful.

Lindy Simpson is fifteen, a track star, and the object of the narrator's affection. The (unnamed) narrator is male, a year younger, and convinced that he and she have a future together...except that Lindy barely notices him. She is knocked out and raped on the sidewalk outside their homes one night, and the perpetrator is never caught. How this act of violence changes Lindy, the narrator, and indeed the whole neighborhood is the point of the book.

This is a work of suspense, yes, but finding out who did it is not the reason to keep turning pages. The narrator is looking back at this incident from a distance of about twenty years, and it's this introspective rumination that gives life to the characters. We see why things happened the way they did, why people acted the way they did, and how those decisions changed them. I don't want to give away anything, so you'll just have to trust me when I say finding out the identity of the rapist (and it does come, right at the end) is almost incidental and yet that one act of violence leads to so much more: questions of guilt, manhood, and personal identity to name a few. What makes us human, or what separates humans from animals (such as the stray dog that figures in the book), is a central theme.

The writing is beautiful, and I don't say that lightly. The plot is tight, and while you may guess at the name of the rapist, you probably won't figure out who the narrator is talking to. (Oops, I just gave away a twist.) Pick up this book if you like suspense novels or deep character studies or amazing writing. If you wrestle with questions of faith (of any kind) or guilt or life in general, read this book. You'll have a difficult time putting it down, and it will stay with you long after you close the back cover.