It is usually within paragraphs, sometimes sentences, that I can assess the quality and depth of a writer's skill… M.O. Walsh had me from the get-go.
As an avid reader who too often finds the offerings of popular writers to be predictable, generic, and easily forgettable, I'm always thrilled when I come upon a book, a story, an author whose work stands out, jumps off the page, holds my attention with both literary skill and a compelling, memorable story.
My Sunshine Away, told from the point of view of the boy -- later, the man -- whose perspective propels the narrative forward, is a coming-of-age tale that not only finds the realism of a boy's life in the very particular southern city of Baton Rouge, but captures the tone, the angst, the endemic, obsessive passion of young love in the midst of perplexing, often painful, life. What's unique about this version of such narratives is its through line involving the ripple effect of a young girl's rape -- the very girl at the heart of our protagonist's obsession.
There is no triteness in this theme or this story as a whole. The author has a unique, evocative way of defining place, time; the rituals of boyhood that are both shocking and immediately recognizable, and his choice to use the plot point of sexual violence and its effects not only the victim but on every single person with whom that girl comes in contact, lays a complex foundation for discussions of family dysfunction, female oppression and powerlessness, male entitlement and bravado, and the push-pull of an evolving perception of compassion, understanding... adulthood.
That Walsh finds the poetry in all this, the heartbreaking tenderness and cruelty of young love, the sucker punch of life's unpredictable violence, imbues his story with a sense of literary wonder. It is a story that is both difficult and touching, and by the book's end I was in tears, wanted to remember certain moments, select passages… like this one, in reference to the power and purpose of memory:
"It reminds us that every moment of our lives is plugged in. Every moment is crucial. And if we recognize this and embrace it, we will one day be able to look back and understand and feel and regret and reminisce and, if we are lucky, cherish."