My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh
Book Club discussion: 3/14/2017
As I routinely experience, Book Club discussions enhance my understanding and/or appreciation for the books I read, especially ones with which I’ve struggled a bit. That was the case again for My Sunshine Away.
The references to the Challenger explosion and the Jeffrey Dahmer serial murder case help establish the time of this story for many readers in 2017. I anticipate the Challenger explosion will do that for readers for many years. I don’t think that’s the case for the Dahmer murder case, and may actually “date” the book, or maybe I just hope it won’t be a universally recognized event. I guess I’m hoping that we don’t perpetuate the stories of deeply inhumane acts of serial violence but that’s probably not realistic since we’re all familiar with the existence of Jack the Ripper.
I now do see a useful role of the Jeffrey Dahmer serial murders and why Lindsay is so interested in discussing it. This is a public case of an evil set of crimes and, importantly, it’s not about her. The narrator is willing to discuss primarily because of his obsession with Lindsay.
A substantial theme I hadn’t fully digested is the importance of a male adult/boy relationship in the development of a boy into a man. The narrator has limited interaction with his father, especially after he leaves the family for another woman. The brief time his mother’s brother stays with the family (while he is sorting out his own problems) provides the only relationship the narrator calls out as one that has an influence on the way he views things. The narrator reveals the true audience for his narration in the last chapter. Exploring this theme in this way certainly elevates the novel light-years above the SVU type story it uses to start the book.
The short (50 min) but amazingly effective book discussion I attended about this book enabled me to recognize this substantial them, almost buried within the description of male adolescence and impact of a sex crime. It’s prompted me to consider finishing “The Lost Memory of Skin” by Russell Banks especially since there was a clear lack of positive adult male figure in the life of that book’s protagonist. I’ve previously read and have moved by earlier novels by Banks but put this one down due to the topic of sex offense. I haven’t yet obtained it again from the library and perhaps I won’t. I continue to hope there are ways to discuss important human themes without involving human evil. I continue to hope that our society hasn’t been overly numbed and requires vivid depictions of evil to be moved. I continue to hope that Margaret Atwood’s speculative fiction doesn’t continue to predict so well society trends….