Before delving into my review, I wanted to share two endorsements from two writers, who published two of my favorite reads of 2014, for M.O. Walsh’s wonderful first release- My Sunshine Away.
If you are interested in reading my in-depth review of either title, you may click on the respective author’s name and title:
“I really loved this book. I am in awe, swept up in the quiet beauty of the prose, and in the wisdom and compassion of the narrator. I can’t praise it enough. My Sunshine Away is not a thriller; it is not genre fiction; but it’s realism at its finest, and it is a page turner—a story made memorable in paragraph after paragraph by the brilliance of its author, and by the scope of the questions he asks as to how we live this life to the fullest as loving and moral beings. It’s about love, obsession, and pain. Such a beautiful book. Such a remarkable book. I can’t praise it enough.” —Anne Rice, #1 nationally bestselling author of Prince Lestat
“This is literature of the highest order. Although the book snaps with the tautness of a thriller––and Walsh keeps the reader guessing until the end, as the best mystery writers do––My Sunshine Away also asks essential questions, like how much responsibility we have to each other, and whether we can we ever fully reassemble the pieces of broken lives. And while Walsh hints at answers, it’s his willingness to engage such ideas that makes My Sunshine Away an important work of fiction. We need more novelists with the guts and clarity of M. O. Walsh.” ––Matthew Thomas, New York Times–bestselling author of We Are Not Ourselves
Many times, people scoff at endorsements, relying on the cultural myth attached to endorsements that authors them are giving them on commission, and doing it, obligingly, to help a friend in the trade. Very often in all trades, this is typically the trend for endorsements, in that they are normally written by friends of the person seeking endorsements. Even so, I have found that a high percentage of the things I read are recommended through the endorsement, written by a writer whose work I am very familiar with.
In the case of M.O. Walsh’s first novel My Sunshine Away– a rather provocative, finely-written, trenchantly psychoanalytic first book- was recommended by one of my favorite writers: Anne Rice. For anyone that is a regular reader of my blog, you are probably more than aware of my profound respect, borderline fervid appreciation for Anne Rice’s novels. With that being said, you can already assume that any recommendation from Anne Rice is one that I mostly likely will take a serious interest in by default. Of course, another writer, Matthew Thomas, whose recent release We are not Ourselves-a thorough, exhaustive literary examination of the progression of the American nuclear family in the twentieth century- also endorsed this work, further compelling me to seek out a reviewer copy of this book.
And my high, somewhat lofty expectations for this work were not only met, but they would greatly surpassed. My Sunshine Away is masterfully written, and has a layered approach, to the way different levels of depth are exhumed by the interpretive reader. These disparate levels of depth can be missed, but they are consciously there, and the perspective of this whole story is somewhat incredulously told by a somewhat unreliable narrator,who we have no firm idea what place in time he is telling this story from. And that is one facet of the much deeper, more intricate mystery at work at the core of this novel. The concrete mystery,though, is the tragic rape of Lindy Simpson, for whom the narrator seems to have a certain overweening possession with. And we get a handful of different chapters, detailing the main character’s leading suspicions about the different boys of the neighbor, while allowing the mystery element of that core relationship to magically increase, or be maintained, all throughout.
Utilizing the art of subtle, non-didactic writing, M.O. Walsh never explains from the outset the level of this obsession the main character has with Lindy Simpson, leading the reader to immediately remain suspicious of his motives, and the manner in which he is recalling certain key events. The flow of the story, interestingly, even throws any of our solid suspicions of the perpetrator of the rape because the story defies any clear chronological flow. This unclear, somewhat non-linear flow of time is comparable to the non-linear, unfixed flow of time and events in William Faulkner’s Southern Gothic classic The Sound and the Fury, which this works seems to pay very discrete homage to. M.O Walsh, using this tried and true method of modern/post-modern narrative structure, is allowed to keep the suspence and intrigue of the entire story well-maintained throughout the course of the book.
Another brilliant feature of this work was M.O Walsh’s mastery with balancing rich, almost languorous, descriptions (suffused with some deceptive restful ease) with his continued streak of providing very deep psychoanalysis of the many colorful characters that make up this story. In a sense, the narrator’s descriptions of Louisianna are almost a character in of itself in the novel. M.O. Walsh waxes eloquent about the rare, somewhat elusive beauty of Baton Rouge, LA. His artful way of painting the rain-drenched grass during a hurricane, or the dry, humid air that seems to add a certain foreboding density to the air adds an extremely rich, well-detailed, yet weirdly unnerving aesthetic to many of his pages. Enviably, M.O. Walsh juxtaposes these rich descriptions of the narrator’s memory of the development of his home-town, alongside the way he remembers how his life, his recollections, his insights into various scenes in his life are altered throughout his life, culminating in the final, oddly emotionally-fulfilling scene, that dovetails all the loose thematic ends of the novel into a richly satisfying, even thought-provoking philosophical end to a novel that really is a soulful ode to one’s halcyon memories of childhood and the psychical impressions left on their minds on so many different levels to each individual spot of memory from their lives.
The most impressive feat, though, for My Sunshine Away was the poignant, sensitive, artful use of the rape plot-line in this story. It is never cheaply used to drive an otherwise interminable plot along, and it is never used like some cheap romances as something frivolously romanticized/titillating. Real writers of skill incorporate elements like this sensitively, with a keen focus on trying to put as much realism and purpose to the entire thing, to make sure it doesn’t become repugnant and stale, to the reader. The rape provides a much deeper message in the story about empathy, and learning to really see beyond our own egotistical, or myopic views (mired in guilt sometimes) of how people are affected differently in the work. And M.O. Walsh’s message echoes the core meaning/ethical thrust of the wonderful American poet Elizabeth Bishop’s work, which is the importance of us to always include the perspectives of “the other” into our work. And Southern writers do not get enough credit for this, and M.O. Walsh joins the pantheon of other equally talented Southern writers, like William Faulkner, Harper Lee, Anne Rice, who brilliantly always provide introspective look on those that are marginalized in many other stories. This is the one strident element of this book, which really marks this book as being a veritable Southern novel.
Fittingly, the novel’s true emotional climax comes earlier than the last page, when the narrator is recalling one memory in a confluence of memories that this novel represents, and that was of watching a crime mystery show, narrated by a suitably baritone voiced announcer. This small, but significant piece can be intuited by the careful reader to hold that the spots of unresolved darkness in the many loose fragments of our memories may not always be resolved in the end. We can only learn to forge healing for them through our actions in the immediate future. And that is really the strongest message of this book, entangled in a multifaceted, large New Orleans oak tree that is really the best metaphor for this very sensitively-written, brilliant work of literature that offers so many different insight into the human condition and the somewhat mysterious nature of our memory. It is a book that any serious fan of great literature should definitely check out, to ponder the many great staggering mysteries in store that will enthrall you until the very last bold-faced word on the page!
I wish talented newcomer writer M.O. Walsh the best of luck with his very promising, bright future in the publishing world, and I’ll be sure to check out the next book he has in store for all the many readers I hope he gains with this masterful work of literature!