Hot nights, cold blood

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First Posted: 3/3/2015

Stephen King wrote: “The trust of the innocent is the liar’s most useful tool.”

In author, M.O. Walsh’s novel, “My Sunshine Away,” readers become that innocent party as the novel opens and we find ourselves quickly mesmerized by a nameless narrator. While Walsh is known for his previously published short stories, the novel marks his debut into the world of Southern Gothic literature — a place he is quickly gaining momentum.

In retrospective detail, Walsh introduces a young man who flashbacks to a brutal incident that occurred in the summer of 1989 on the streets of his small hometown in Baton Rouge, Louisianna. Sitting back, readers ease into a country town where the days and the nights are as long as they are hot and the heat has brought out nothing but the worst in people. It is not until the end of the first chapter, however, that the narrator, after painting such a vivid and visceral image, notes: “I should tell you now that I was one of the suspects. Hear me out. Let me explain.” Yet, without so much as a minuscule understanding of our narrator, we continue — ears open, following along — perhaps all too trusting.

Readers soon learn the brutal incident — the rape of 14-year-old Lindy Simpson, results in public outcry. Here, Walsh has already set his readers up. We are captured by this young man’s story, but can we trust him? The concept of an unreliable narrator is far from new, but it is a technique that requires precise execution — certainly no easy task. That being said, as time continues, the reader cannot help but empathetically listen, and for a variety of reasons, we seemingly trust him, even if that trust eventually results in adverse findings.

Anyone who has studied or had a strange penchant for reading up on psychopathic tendencies knows that some of the more popular public offenders often appeared attractive, cunning, and, most of all, believable. Serial killer and rapist, Ted Bundy, was a notorious example. Perhaps playing devil’s advocate, one cannot help but go back and forth with our narrator. The same young man who, one could argue, was notably obsessed with the victim.

While the novel’s overarching focus is unearthing truth, the story is also a coming of age tale. Spinning Southern Gothic elements into the work, Walsh writes what he knows well — a quality demonstrated in his writing as well as the twisting plot. Coming to quite the surprising conclusion, Walsh’s debut into the genre demonstrates serious staying power.