My Sunshine Away

My Sunshine Away

by M.O. Walsh


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"A tantalizing mystery and a tender coming-of-age story...Unputdownable."—

In the summer of 1989, a Baton Rouge neighborhood best known for cookouts on sweltering summer afternoons, cauldrons of spicy crawfish, and passionate football fandom is rocked by a violent crime when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson—free spirit, track star, and belle of the block—is attacked late one evening near her home.

For such a close-knit community, the suspects are numerous, and the secrets hidden behind each closed door begin to unravel. Even the young teenage boy across the street, our narrator, does not escape suspicion. It is through his eyes, still haunted by heartbreak and guilt many years later, that we begin to piece together the night of Lindy’s attack and its terrible rippling consequences on the once-idyllic community.

Both an enchanting coming-of-age story and a gripping mystery, My Sunshine Away reveals the ways in which our childhoods shape us, and what happens when those childhoods end. Acutely wise and deeply honest, this is an astonishing and page-turning debut about the meaning of family, the power of memory, and our ability to forgive.
Named A Book of the Year by NPR, The Dallas Morning News, Kirkus Reviews, and Booklist

An Entertainment Weekly 'Must List' Pick 

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780399169526
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/10/2015
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

M.O. Walsh’s fiction and essays have appeared in The New York Times, Oxford American, The Southern Review, American Short Fiction, Epoch, and Best New American Voices, among others. He is a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Mississippi and is currently the director of the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans, where he lives and works, happily, with his wife and family.

Read an Excerpt

There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road, the same sidewalk our parents had once hopefully carved their initials into, years before, as residents of the first street in the Woodland Hills subdivision to have houses on each lot. It was a crime impossible during the daylight, when we neighborhood kids would have been tearing around in go-karts, coloring chalk figures on our driveways, or chasing snakes down into storm gutters. But, at night the streets of Woodland Hills sat empty and quiet, except for the pleasure of frogs greeting the mosquitoes that rose in squadrons from the swamps behind our properties.

On this particular evening, however, in the dark turn beneath the first busted streetlight in the history of Piney Creek Road, a man, or perhaps a boy, stood holding a long piece of rope. He tied one end of this rope to the broken light pole next to the street and wrapped the other around his own hand. Thinking himself unseen, he then crawled into the azalea bushes beside Old Man Casemore’s house, the rope lagging in shadow behind him like a tail, where he perhaps practiced, once or twice, pulling the rope taut and high across the sidewalk. And then this man, or this boy, knowing the routine of the Simpson girl, waited to hear the rattle of her banana-seated Schwinn coming around the curve.

You should know:

Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a hot place.

Even the fall of night offers no comfort. 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 he might have been dissuaded from this violence had he lived in a more merciful place. It is important, I believe, when you think back about a man or a boy in the bushes, to wonder if maybe one soothing breeze would have calmed him, would have softened his mood, would have changed his mind.

But it did not.

So the act took place in darkness, in near silence, in heat, and Lindy Simpson remembered little other than the sudden appearance of a rope in front of her bicycle, the sharp pull of its braid across her chest. Months later, and after much therapy, she would also recall how the bicycle rode on without her after she fell. She would remember how she never even saw it tip over before a sock was stuffed into her mouth and her face was pushed into the lawn. The crush of weight on her back. The scrape of asphalt against her knees. She would remember these, too. Then a voice in her ear that she did not recognize.

Then a blow to the back of her head.

She was fifteen years old.

This was the summer of 1989 and no arrests were made. Don’t believe what you see on the crime shows today. No single hairs were tweezed out of Old Man Casemore’s lawn. No length of rope was sent off to a lab. No DNA was salvaged off the pebbles of our concrete. And although the people of Woodland Hills answered earnestly every question the police initially asked of them, although they tried their best to be helpful, there was no immediate evidence to speak of.

All four of these primary suspects therefore remained unofficial and uncharged, as the rape had occurred so quickly and without apparent witness that the crime scene itself began to fade the moment Lindy Simpson regained consciousness and pushed her bicycle back home that night, a place only four doors away, to lay it down in its usual spot. It faded even further as she walked through the back door of her house and climbed upstairs to her bathroom, where she showered in water of an unknown temperature.

There are times in my life when I imagine this water scalding.

Other times, frozen.

Regardless, Lindy never came down for dinner.

She was likely thought by her parents to be yapping with friends on the telephone, twirling the cord around her young fingers, until her mother, a woman named Peggy, made her evening rounds with the laundry basket. It was then she saw a pair of underpants in the bathroom, dotted with bright red blood, lying next to a single running shoe. The other shoe, a blue Reebok, was missing.

By this time, her daughter Lindy was curled in her bed and concussed.

A bed that just that morning had been a child’s.

I should tell you now that I was one of the suspects.

Hear me out.

Let me explain.


Excerpted from "My Sunshine Away"
by .
Copyright © 2016 M. O. Walsh.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for My Sunshine Away
“Try and restrain yourself from flying through the pages of this wonderful novel. Instead savor this lush Louisiana mystery that takes you back to what life tasted like when you were still somewhat naïve to the ways of the world. Not just Southern, but American in its vivid Baton Rouge colors and scents, treetops and grasses, My Sunshine Away is the story of how the events of our youth profoundly affect us as adults. The last page is as satisfying as the first. A mystery you cannot wait to solve.” —Kathryn Stockett, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Help

"Recalls the best of Pat Conroy: the rich Southern atmosphere, the interplay of darkness and light in adolescence, the combination of brisk narrative suspense with philosophical musings on memory, manhood, and truth.... Celebrate, fiction lovers: The gods of Southern gothic storytelling have inducted a junior member." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Suspenseful, compassionate, and absorbing, Walsh’s word-perfect rendering of the doubts, insecurities, bravado, and idealism of teens deserves to be placed in the hands of readers of Tom Franklin, Hannah Pittard, and Jeffrey Eugenides.” —Booklist (starred review)

“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 

My Sunshine Away is that rarest find, a page-turner you want to read slowly and a literary novel you can’t look away from. At times funny, at times spine-tinglingly suspenseful, and at times just flat-out wise, this novel is also a meditation on memory, how it can destroy or damn us but redeem us as well. It’s a book to read and reread, one that will only get better with time, like its writer. I’m already excited about M. O. Walsh’s next book, whatever it is.” —Tom Franklin, bestselling author of Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

"Much more than a simple coming-of-age story; it is a rumination on how events in one’s life can appear differently depending on where and when they are experienced and recalled.... Rarely does a new author display the skill to develop a page-turner with such a literary tone. Readers of both popular and literary fiction will get their fixes from this novel." —Library Journal

“From beginning to end, My Sunshine Away is full of wisdom, wit, and wonder.” —Bookpage

“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
“If you start this novel, you will not put it down. My Sunshine Away is a riveting, suspenseful, page-turning mystery. It is also a wise, insightful, and beautifully written novel. This is an extraordinary debut.” ––Jill McCorkle, New York Times–bestselling author of Life After Life
“M.O. Walsh has written one of the best books I've read in a long while. An outstanding examination of the way that the past and the weight of our memories shape us, My Sunshine Away, thanks to Walsh’s verve and total control over the narrative, feels utterly original.” —Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang

“Q: When is it a thrill to feel gutted? A: When you start reading the book you hold in your hands. M. O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away reminds us that art can be wrenching and a delight, that pain—if examined through wit, intimacy, and wisdom—can be a salve. This novel is great.”––Darin Strauss, internationally bestselling author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng

My Sunshine Away begins with a crime. But the novel is so much more than a mystery; it’s half lament, half love letter to youth and to possibility. On every page, we feel complicit, perhaps even guilty. Guilty of what? For ever having been young ourselves. The magic of My Sunshine Away is in M. O. Walsh’s extraordinary ability to make us long for the heartache of youth and its inevitable sins. This is an awe-inspiring debut.” —Hannah Pittard, author of Reunion and The Fates Will Find Their Way 
“If I were asked to list the qualities the ideal novel would offer, I’d start by demanding beautiful sentences. I’d want the opening to grab me and I’d want the ending to refuse to let go. I’d ask for characters who consistently surprise by being somehow deeper and less predictable than we could ever have guessed they’d be. I’d want Place to be written with a capital P. I’d want a mystery at the heart of the story, and a mystery or two in every heart. And when I finished reading the book, I’d want to be both wiser and sadder than when I started. M. O. Walsh’s magnificent novel My Sunshine Away afforded me all these pleasures and more. This is one of the best novels I’ve read in ages.” —Steve Yarbrough, author of The Realm of Last Chances

Matthew Thomas

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

Jill McCorkle

If you start this novel, you will not put it down. My Sunshine Away is a riveting, suspenseful, page-turning mystery. It is also a wise, insightful, and beautifully written novel. This is an extraordinary debut. ——Jill McCorkle, New York Times—bestselling author of Life After Life

Reading Group Guide

My Sunshine Away by M. O. Walsh
Discussion Questions

1. The narrator recounts the story out of chronological order. Why did the author choose to tell the story this way? How does this narrative structure allow him to explore the ways that events in our youth shape our lives as adults?

2. The book begins with the story of a rape. It also deals with child and animal abuse, as well as death and divorce. Yet the book does not feel bleak. Could My Sunshine Away be described as an optimistic book? If so, how?

3. The narrator feels that people have preconceived notions or stereotypes about both Baton Rouge, where he is from, and the South in general. In what ways does this book try to subvert those stereotypes? In what ways does it reinforce them? Is the place where you grew up stereotyped? How do you feel connected to that place? How do you feel separated from it?

4. Although this novel is intensely personal, it also touches on moments of national importance, such as the Challenger disaster and the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. How have world events affected you personally? At a time of constant news coverage, is there a difference between local and global?

6. At the end of the book, we realize the narrator is telling this story to his unborn son. Were you surprised? Did this discovery change your perception of the book and why he was telling the story? Do you think this “audience” affects the way it is told? Is it more honest, or less so?

7. The title of the book is the last line of the Louisiana state song, “You Are My Sunshine.” In what ways does it play into the themes of the book?

8. Chapter 28 is devoted entirely to the differences between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. How is this important to understanding the relationship between Lindy and the narrator?

9. Look back to the discussion of whiteflies on page 47. These insects reappear several times later in the book. How might they serve as a metaphor for memory in the novel?

10. Although the narrator spends years of his life thinking about Lindy Simpson, he comes to the realization that he never really knew her. What mistakes was he making in his attempts to understand her, both before and after the crime?

11. When the narrator begins the story of what he discovered in Jacques Landry’s private room, he has to stop himself and recount a good memory first. He says that doing this helps “keep darkness from winning.” Is it cowardly or perhaps dishonest for him to shuffle his memories around in this way, or is it wise? In what ways do you use your own memories to construct the type of person you want to be?

12. During one of the narrator’s lowest points, he gets great comfort from his uncle Barry. However, Uncle Barry is far from a typical role model. Why is he such a great help for the narrator? Can people to serve as role models or counselors even when they are deeply flawed?

13. The narrator is never named in the book. Why do you think the author decided to leave him unnamed? How does this affect the reading experience?

14. At one point, Julie tells the narrator that it would be up to her if she wanted to share painful moments in her past with him. Should partners share everything with each other, or are some secrets important to keep? Does anyone really know everything about someone else? How do we navigate our own secrets with the people we love?

15. At the end of the novel, the narrator tells his son that he wants the two of them to be “good men.” What does that mean to the narrator? Does the novel suggest a way of becoming a good man? Is the idea of being a “good” person wholly subjective, or are there moral touchstones to goodness that we all agree on?

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