Complicated and beautiful.
That’s my best descriptions of M.O. Walsh’s debut novel, My Sunshine Away. It’s not that the subject matter or plot is complicated, it’s not really. An upper middle-class suburban neighborhood is shaken by the rape of a young girl on her way home one night. The story follows the community over the next several years as it deals with the loss of innocence that is inevitable when people are involved.
It’s the purpose that’s more complicated. The narrator, who tells us early that he is also a suspect, speaks to his unborn son in the later parts of the book and says,
“I understand that is inside all of us men to be both menacing and cowardly. It is in all of us to have virtue and value and yet it is also in our power to fall into irrelevant novelty or, even worse, elicit indifference from the people we’ve loved. This is the challenge, I suppose, of fatherhood.”
A crime novel that is also a coming of age novel that also serves as a love letter to the unborn.
The plot turns the pages, but the language inebriates you with the charm of the Deep South. It’s so bewitching that I was willing to journey with sexual deviants and agonizing subject matter. And that is part of Walsh’s charm. He is genteel with hard subject matter while still illuminating the grotesqueness and depravity of the behavior.
Early we learn that Lindy was an All-American girl living a very middle-class existence in the suburbs until she was raped one night on the way home from track practice. The novel traces the narrator, and by default, the people in his life and Lindy’s for the next few years as they all come to grips with the senselessness of the crime.
Of course, readers will naturally try to solve the rape caper, but the story isn’t really about the rape. It’s about what happens when the rug gets pulled out from under a community and how it responds. It’s hard material, but its enchanting prose makes it palatable. Even Walsh’s description of the predator waiting for his prey is melodious:
“There are no breezes sweeping off the dark servitudes and marshes, no cooling rains. Instead, the rain that falls here survives only to boil on the pavement, to steam up your glasses, to burden you. So this man, or this boy, was undoubtedly sweating as he crouched in the bushes, undoubtedly eaten alive by insects. They gnash you here. They cover you. And so it is not a mistake to wonder if maybe one soothing breeze would have calmed him, would have softened his mood, would have changed his mind.”
I can’t tell you much without spoiling it for you, but I can tell you that it is the perfect balance of mystery, character development, and lyrical prose.
I will tell you that it is heartbreaking at times, but the ending.
Oh the ending.
When it’s all over and the fat lady has sung, the narrator tells his unborn son why he has told the story,
“with my excitement comes the fear that I will not be able to raise you from this boy to the man that I know you can be: a better man than I have been, surely, but one like I am trying to become. And so I have spoken honestly to you about my youth and my mistakes, and also of the incredible fortune that has come my way through the kindness of our family, for one simple reason. I want us to get off on the right foot. I want the two of us, together in this world, to be good men.”
By the end of the novel you can feel satisfied with the resolution of the plot, you are endeared to the characters in all their humanness, and you can hopefully see grace and mercy in the days of your youth.