M. O. Walsh’s My Sunshine Away

There has been a trend as of late. I’m not sure if it is an actual trend per say, or if it is more the books that I am picking – although I’m inclined to believe the former, seeing as how I make a conscious effort to not read anything similar in a row. There seems to be a fascination with darkness, with subjects that are disturbing, devastating, unthinkable. Things that have the power to – and do – forever alter a person’s life. These books that I’m describing reach far beyond the shallowness of the shoreline that Nabokov introduced us to with Lolita, which, although unnerving, was quite tame considering the subject matter. They exceed the vast expanse of the sea…their depth sometimes immeasurable…their affects profoundly lasting.

My Sunshine Away is one of those such novels. And I suspect that it will haunt me for a long time. The title alone left me with an eerie feeling – part of a verse from a song I knew in my youth:

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy when skies are grey

You never know, dear, how much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

but it also was the reason that I read it. The heaviness that I felt from those words intrigued me much more than other three-word combinations have. They felt empty, but not because something was lacking, empty because there was something that no longer existed, something that had been taken away. Something that had died.

The story centers on a crime that was committed a few decades in the past. The unsolved rape of a fifteen year old girl and the implications that it had not only on her life, but on the lives of her community, her neighborhood, her family, her friends. There were four suspects in this, including our narrator who remains nameless throughout. From the first page I was on the edge of my seat closely examining the narrator’s words, looking to find holes in his story, trying to decide if he was the one who committed the crime. I won’t say whether or not we end up with an answer to this question because the who or why is not significant. The significance is in what was lost. Innocence.

Innocence, once lost, can never be recovered, especially when that loss happens in such a heinous way. It happens often in literature, as in life, but it’s portrayal here is not something that erases itself from your memory after you’ve turned the last page. It’s something that sticks with you. Just like that song. Please don’t take my sunshine away.

My Sunshine Away

Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise

Published last month by Simon & Schuster, Laura McBride’s debut novel, We Are Called to Rise at its core, is a story about hope and innocence, and trying to preserve hope when innocence is lost. Told in four alternating narratives, we are introduced to a different side of Las Vegas, one that humanizes it and shows you that, in most ways, it is just like everywhere else.

Bashkim is an eight year old boy whose parents immigrated to the US from Albania and own an ice cream truck as a means to providing for the family. Bashkim has a younger sister, Tiriana. They are very poor, often are behind in their bills and sometimes cannot afford to eat. Bashkim’s parents are very old world and there are cultural differences which they cannot understand – although, it could be more a refusal to accept rather than a complete incomprehension. This causes problems for the family from time-to-time, and is the key component to what is essentially the disembodiment of the family.

Luis is an Iraqi war veteran, who’s at a hospital in Washington DC while he recovers both physically and mentally from injuries sustained overseas, and from events that haunt him. Through Bashkim’s school, Luis and Bashkim become pen pals, sending letters back-and-forth. Though neither of them is completely truthful with each other, the letters somehow are able to help both of them in the end.

Roberta is a social worker that really gets into her job, the kind that is affected by the kids that she cannot save, and she cannot save them all. When Bashkim’s life falls apart, she is assigned his case and goes above and beyond, doing everything in her power to bring a little bit of peace to Bashkim and what’s left of his family.

Avis is the mother of Iraqi war veteran, Nate, who is a new member of the Las Vegas Police force. Amidst her crumbling marriage and, subsequently, her life, she sees changes in her son from his last deployment, ones that could become a hindrance given his new place of work. She fears for what her son will do, but is she strong enough to take action towards getting him the help he needs, or will someone fall victim to his mental instability?

We Are Called to Rise, is a brilliant novel about misunderstandings and second chances, and how quickly one’s life can be turned upside-down and forever changed. Simply put: it is amazing, and it has the power to stay with you long after you have finished it.

“There are times when all this pain, all these misunderstandings, all this hatred, has made me wonder if we deserve this beautiful world; if we human beings should really be left in charge of it. But if, sometimes, an unspeakable horror arises from the smallest error, I choose to believe that it’s possibly for an equally unimaginable grandeur to grow from the tiniest gesture of love. I choose to believe that it works both ways. That great terror is the result of a thousand small but evil choices, and great good is the outcome of another thousand tiny acts of care.”