Sunday, February 8, 2015

Walsh's excellent debut novel examines supposed innocence of Baton Rouge suburb

            In a tranquil suburb of Baton Rouge a young girl experiences a horrible crime. There are four suspects, one of which is the narrator of “My Sunshine Away,” the impressive debut novel of M.O. Walsh.
            It’s the summer of 1989 and kids are riding bikes, exploring the woods behind their houses and falling in love. Outside of a couple of kids acting out, it appears to be an idyllic American neighborhood until 15-year-old Lindy Simpson is sexually assaulted coming home from track practice. The folks living on Piney Creek Road will never be the same.
            As the narrator explains his long infatuation with Lindy, which eventually makes him a suspect, he also details the characters most likely to have committed the crime ­— a threatening giant of a neighbor abusive to his family, his tortured delinquent son and the local bully no one wishes to cross. As the narrator recounts that summer and the two years following, he also experiences his parents’ divorce and the death of a sister, all events that disrupt what was once an innocent childhood.
            The mystery is solved by book’s end but the character’s introspection at its conclusion will stay with readers long after that last page is read. Walsh has penned a marvelous story.
            In addition to the plotline, the book is filled with exquisite passages such as the narrator’s heartfelt reflections that veer from childhood and teenage apathy to rabid infatuation. His explanations of South Louisiana climate, customs and our love affair with food are also right on, as well as descriptions of Baton Rouge residents after Katrina, another moment when innocence was swept away. “My Sunshine Away” is both rivating as a novel and enjoyable for its accuracy of Louisiana life, although it’s understandable since Walsh grew up in a Baton Rouge neighborhood much like his fictional one, and witnessed a crime against a young neighbor as well.
            “I thought back to my childhood days, about the joy in them, and since I was now old enough to think about parenting and about children, I could no longer suppress this other neighborhood story that I’d buried in my memory,” he wrote in the press materials that arrived with my review copy. His goal in writing the novel was “to try and highlight the importance of family and memory, and find ways to illustrate how these things, when viewed as gifts instead of burdens, can help a person value their life and those whose lives they are part of.”
            Walsh’s essays have appeared in numerous national magazines. He is a graduate of the MFA program at Ole Miss and is now director of the Creative Writing Workshop at UNO.
            Walsh will sign copies of “My Sunshine Away” at the book’s launch at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Chelsea’s Café, 2857 Perkins Road in Baton Rouge.

Mardi Gras books
            If you’re looking to get into the Carnival spirit, there are several new books out just in time.
            Lynn Shurr of New Iberia has published a romance titled “Courir de Mardi Gras” and following in the series is “Mardi Gras Madness,” due out Feb. 13, and “Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball” on March 15.  Those are only three novels in this prolific author’s career. Check out all her books at www.lynnshurr.com.
            New Orleans author Colleen Mooney presents the first in her “To Go Cup Chronicle” series, another romantic romp. “Rescued By a Kiss” is the first novel, where a New Orleans girl receives a mysterious kiss at a Mardi Gras parade which gets her in a whole lot of trouble. The book was the winner of two Southern Louisiana Romance Writers awards and proceeds from the book will benefit animal shelter rescue. The book is available at Amazon.com or local bookstores.
            One of Allemand Parish’s wealthiest men staggers and falls following a Mardi Gras parade, only to be found murdered with a gris gris bag tied to the knife in his chest in A.C. Mason’s “Mardi Gras Gris Gris.” The Baton Rouge author’s full name is Anne Clayre Mason and she’s written several romantic suspense and mysteries. Visit her web site at www.anneclayremason.com.

            A fun Mardi Gras book for this time of year has been created by Lafayette artist Vergie Banks. “The Journey of the Little Red Tricycle, Zoe Meets Gumbo,” for ages 3 and up, centers around a young girl named Zoe who can speak three languages, English, French and Spanish. Zoe dresses in costumes and enjoys a country Mardi Gras with zydeco music, chasing chickens and a gumbo at day’s end, even though the chicken she brings home becomes a pet. Banks’s little red tricycle is part of her most popular body of artwork that portrays a little Creole girl with pigtails on her three-wheeler.

New releases
            Neal Bertrand of Lafayette has published a book containing more than 600 photos his father took while serving in World War II, plus portions of his battalion’s daily journals, in “Dad’s War Photos: Adventures in the South Pacific.” According to Bertrand, the book contains 14 types of airplanes, Bob Hope signing autographs and photos from captured Japanese cameras, plus 21 maps that trace his father’s steps from country to country. “Dad’s War Photos” is on sale at Champagne’s Supermarket in the Oil Center or by sending $25 to Cypress Cove Publishing, P.O. Box 91195, Lafayette, LA 70509-1195.
            Bertrand will speak at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Imperial St. Landry Genealogical and Historical Society meeting at the Opelousas Library. He will display his father’s artifacts and speak about the book.
            Annmarie Sartor of Monroe has published “We met in September,” a romantic suspense that chronicles the rise and disappearance of an international sailing magnet and the wife who takes on a frantic search to find him. The book is available at online bookstores. For information, visit http://annmariesartor.com/.
            Three generations of the Sandoz family investigate the spooky happenings inside the 100-year-old family home of Opelousas in “The Presence Within,” written by Jeff and Jane Simmons Sandoz with illustrations by John Sandoz. The book is available at The Cuttery, J.B. Sandoz and the Sandoz Law Office in Opelousas and at Amazon.com.
            Rachel N. Stewart of Baton Rouge has published “Take It & Laugh,” about a young girl who becomes a single parent but finds her purpose through Jesus and receiving an education. The book is available at online bookstores.
            Ashley Blake of Nashville, a native of Louisiana, has published a suspense titled “Dark Bayou” in which main character Freddy Tango’s grandfather insists he was attacked by a long-dead outlaw. Someone is searching for the outlaw’s treasure and they believe Cecil Tango has it.           

Book events
            The Lafayette Public Library will screen the documentary “Lost Boys of Sudan” at 6 p.m. Tuesday with a discussion at 7:45 p.m. at South Regional Library as part of the program called Lafayette Reads Together. The inaugural program focuses on the New York Times bestseller “A Long Walk to Water” by Linda Sue Park, a survivor’s tale inspired by the real story of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, who not only saved himself, but improved the quality of life for many. For a list of events, visit LafayettePublicLibrary.org.
            Warren and Mary Perrin, editors of “Acadie Then and Now: A People’s History,” will speak about their new book at 6 p.m. Thursday as part of the Center for Louisiana Studies’ “Bayou State Book Talks” at South Regional Library. For more information, call 233-5832, or email perrin@plddo.com.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” “Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.