Written as though having a serious conversation in hopes of being understood, the unnamed narrator of My Sunshine Away accepts his own guilt in a tale of a childhood marred by a violent loss of innocence in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, when fifteen-year-old Lindy Simpson is raped one summer at dusk. Baring his private adolescent shame like battle scars,
the boy--now a man--remembers his childhood and the characters involved in this dark drama, at the heart of it the identity of the rapist.
Counting himself, there are four possible suspects.
The narrator describes each in searing detail, from inscrutable psychiatrist and foster parent Jacques Landry, a hulking figure who stalks the neighborhood with an air of vague menace,
to his adopted-once-foster son, Jason, a troubled young man who manifests severe dysfunctional traits (a “socializer for other foster kids”), including violent tendencies. Then there are the Kern boys, Bo and Duke. Duke is handsome
and popular (and therefore not a suspect); the harelip-marred Bo, however, is easily added to the list of perspective rapists.
Other than the rape, a self-described tale of “before and after,” the narrator enjoys a normal childhood in a warm southern clime, his parents’ divorce creating distance between the boy and an unfaithful father who is seldom around. Now living in a household of women, he is neither a jock nor a geek, straddling the odd behavior of boys yet to appreciate the men they will become. With nearby neighbor Lindy as his longtime crush and adolescent obsession, the narrator is unable either to interpret his own actions or to comprehend the depth of her trauma the evening she tumbles from her bike and is attacked by a rapist lying in wait.
This is a coming-of-age story, one shaped by the crime perpetrated on Lindy, breaching the unarticulated passions of a developing psyche.
The girl’s mystique is enhanced by the victimhood conferred by the act of rape and distorted by the confusion of adolescent sexual inclinations and the way adult suspicion colors childish secrets. Life unfolds in a Baton Rouge neighborhood salted with a few troublesome personalities, some of whom loom large in the narrator’s imagination.
His own family drama acts out in counterpoint to his processing of Lindy’s rape, as though solving this one crime will set the world right.
In a drama frequently grown tense with inherent menace, everyone and everything is viewed through his particular filter, his interpretation of life through the twisted prism of a boy who feels responsible for the wrong done to Lindy, his conscience weighted by the need to heal her very private wounds. Driven by the urgency to expiate his failure and the guilt he carries as a result, he desires only to make amends to the girl who has taken up residence in his soul: “The way I wanted life to be was more important than the way life was, which it wasn’t.” This is a hard-learned lesson,
and his relationship with Lindy suffers collateral damage. The narrator is forced to consider, too late, whether his assumptions are consistent with what Lindy wants for herself.
This boyhood lived in the place he loves is forever tainted by the crime against Lindy.
The residents nearby prove to harbor a trove of ugly secrets, some more disturbing than others,
leaving the innocence of childhood forfeit to the reality of the world at large. More troubling is the boy/man’s awakening of his own failures, his inability to sort his own needs from the girl he wants to save.