My Sunshine Away ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp
My Sunshine Away, by first-time novelist M. O. Walsh, is set in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the late 1980s. The unnamed narrator (referred to only by pronouns) lives in a pleasant middle-class housing development with his mother, his philandering father (he has a girlfriend younger than his daughters), and his two older sisters, Hannah (killed in a traffic accident in her twenties) and Rachel. The narrator harbors an unhealthy adolescent obsession for a girl in the neighborhood named Lindy Simpson. He thinks about her day and night. He fantasizes about her. He climbs into a tree in her yard and spies on her with binoculars. He tries to impress her in the way he cuts his hair and the way he dresses. He envisions a future with her. Everything for him is Lindy, Lindy, Lindy. If you think this doesn’t get tiresome after a couple hundred pages, you are mistaken.
On a summer evening when the narrator and Lindy are sixteen, Lindy is raped. It’s an unusual crime for the neighborhood. The narrator is a suspect for a while (he didn’t do it), as is nearly every other male in the neighborhood. The police are not able to find out who did it. Lindy didn’t get a good look at her assailant. The most tragic consequence of the crime is that Lindy changes: from a sweet, pleasant girl into a rebellious, sullen, foul-mouthed idiot. (Know anybody like this?)
Despite Lindy’s change for the worse, however, the narrator’s obsession for her only grows stronger. (She seems increasingly unworthy of his adulation.) He tries to find out who raped Lindy and in a way carries a burden of guilt because he was outside on the dark night of the rape, saw a male figure lurking around, and was too scared to do anything about it. He doesn’t find an answer until many years later when he and Lindy are in their thirties. Will it help Lindy, even at that late stage, to know who raped her? Probably not.
Being set in Baton Rouge doesn’t make My Sunshine Away a “Southern novel.” While there is some “local color” involving heat, swamps, bugs, crepe myrtle trees and hurricanes, it’s a story that could take place anywhere, in New Mexico or New Jersey. If you want to read a real Southern novel, read As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers or Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.
My Sunshine Away is a beautifully written first-person narrative, highly readable, if a little wordy and repetitive at times. I liked it a lot when I first started reading it and a lot less about two-thirds of the way through. Where the story starts to go south for me is the mutual telephone masturbation scene between the narrator and Lindy. (I think this is what they call “phone sex.” Yuck.) Anyway, the last one-third of the book was a chore for me to get through. The narrator’s obsession with Lindy began to grow thin for me at the point where she turns into such a jerk and such an unlikeable person. His mostly absent father should have taken him aside and told him that Lindy was bad news and that he was wasting his time and emotional energy on her. She will cause you nothing but heartache. Don’t put yourself through that if you don’t have to. Or words to that effect.
The last thirty or forty pages of the book, while compellingly written (as the whole book is), are a little treacly and female-oriented for my taste, as if the writer is going for a female audience here. If you don’t roll your eyes through these pages (rhapsodizing about pregnancy, parenthood and love), you have a much stronger constitution that I do.
Copyright © 2015 by Allen Kopp