‘There were four suspects in the crime that occurred on the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road. I should tell you now that I was one. Hear me out. Let me explain . . .’
On a summer’s evening in 1989, on an empty street in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson is knocked from her bike and attacked just yards from her home. No one sees or hears anything. The police have few suspects and no real clues. Eventually the community puts it behind them. Everyone tries to move on. But one fourteen-year-old boy, who may have seen things he shouldn’t, can’t forget. Secretly drawn to Lindy and this shocking neighbourhood crime, he is determined to uncover the truth no matter the cost to others, to himself and even to Lindy . . .
M. O. Walsh Biography
M. O. Walsh grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
He has written for Oxford American and The New York Times and his stories have been anthologized in Best New American Voices and Bar Stories.
He currently teaches English at the University of New Orleans.
My Sunshine Away is his first novel.
M. O. Walsh on the Inspiration Behind My Sunshine Away
I was too young to understand what she meant. Yet I knew something was wrong by the tone of my mother’s voice, the way she spoke the word so quietly into the telephone; rape. Or, was it the way she whispered it to someone else sitting with her in the kitchen? Another sad parent, perhaps? An upset neighbor? This is where my memory gets foggy.
All I know for sure is that, decades later, I would sit down at my computer and begin a novel with the line, “There were four suspects in the rape of Lindy Simpson, a crime that occurred directly on top of the sidewalk of Piney Creek Road…”
It was a strange tension that compelled me to write this. Having grown up in a nice suburban area of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I’d always been the first person to talk about how great my childhood was. Sure, I’d suffered through my parent’s divorce, survived some devastating familial losses, but the neighborhood, the ecstatic and youthful play it provided me; that’s what I remembered. We lived on a lovely street lined with crepe myrtle trees. We had access to acres upon acres of untamed woods and swampland behind our properties. My little friends and I romped around this place like rogue explorers, trapping tadpoles in mason jars, climbing mossy oak trees, and lifting rotten logs to see what might be living beneath them. We ran through lawn sprinklers, bought popsicles from the ice cream truck that rattled down our street on hot afternoons and we always returned home safely, I thought, when the streetlights came on.
Yet the older I became, and the more I retold these stories about my neighborhood, the louder this other memory grew, the one where I heard my mother say something that I was not supposed to hear. A girl in our neighborhood, a young girl in her teens, had been brutally attacked in the very same area that we played. Could this be true? The great friction this caused between my memory of the place and its possible reality became too much for me to ignore. Did this really happen? If so, how? When? Why? To whom?
Now, what a normal person does when faced with a gap in their memory such as this one is call their parents to find out the truth. They clean up this empty mental space in about fifteen minutes. What a total weirdo does, and I would argue that all fiction writers are total weirdos, is sit down and spend the next seven years of their life making up a story about what might have happened.
That’s what I did. The result is my first novel, My Sunshine Away, a literary suspense set primarily in the late 1980’s and early 90’s of suburban Louisiana, following a narrator who is now trying to piece back together the unsolved crime against Lindy Simpson on that summer night of 1989. One of the problems with this man’s re-telling of the events, however, is not just the plasticity of memory, the fog of time, but that he, in his own zealous teenage crush over Lindy Simpson, was also one of suspects.
And it is magical thing about fiction, I think, how it might get us closer to the truth than any facts. After several years working on the book in secret, not telling my family anything about it, I finally sent a copy of the finished manuscript to my mother to read. I expected her to be surprised at how much the fictional neighborhood resembled our actual one, or perhaps how she saw herself in one of the mother’s depicted in the book. Yet when she called me to discuss it, the first thing she said was, “How did you know? How did you know about that?”
I didn’t really know, of course, but something in my heart did. Something in the heart always does.
And so we write it.