Walsh understands the fetishization of large homes, manicured lawns and air conditioned comfort in the city's affluent middle-class neighborhoods, covering a deep social anxiety.
A subdued wilderness remains on the edge of the pristine subdivisions, giving children a taste of pioneer adventure. Eruptions of crime and violence sometimes shatter the prevailing bonhomie. There's also a high toll of young people dying in traffic accidents, which Walsh touches upon.
Long overshadowed by New Orleans and its exotic culture, Baton Rouge was known as a staid, blue-collar town, despite the presence of a major university and state government workers. Baton Rouge felt inferior about its cuisine, music (John Fred, Johnny Rivers and Joe Tex notwithstanding) and nightlife.
Tim Parrish's short story collection "Red Stick Men" examined the city's gritty northside neighborhoods near the Exxon Refinery. Walsh looks at Baton Rouge's affluent middle class.
The book''s ungrammatical title, taken from former Gov. Jimmy Davis' "You Are My Sunshine," matches the book's gauzy coming of age story. The unnamed first-person narrator tells about his awkward boyhood growing up on Piney Creek Road in Woodland Hills and his obsessive love for a beautiful girl who lives on the same street. His and the neighborhood's idyllic lifestyle is shattered by the girl's brutal rape.
Along with gripping elements of a crime novel, the book presents a gallery of fascinating characters struggling with the pressures of adolescence, marriage and career changes. The hot and humid Louisiana climate intersects with their lives.
In a brilliant digression, Walsh discusses the shift in New Orleans and Baton Rouge's roles following Hurricane Katrina.
For years New Orleans' stepchild, Baton Rouge took in refugees from the flood-ravaged city 80 miles down the Mississippi River. Walsh amusingly looks at how New Orleans' residents still treated Baton Rouge with condescension. Not so amusing was the transfer of New Orleans' crime to Baton Rouge.
Books about New Orleans have dominated Louisiana literature. As with Stephanie Soileau's short stories about Lake Charles in her brilliant collection "Last One Out Turn Out the Lights," Walsh demonstrates that the state's other cities possess literary riches.
The director of the University of New Orleans' creative writing department and a graduate of Ole Miss' MFA program, Walsh is receiving national acclaim for his second novel, "The Big Door Prize," about a strange machine changing the fortunes of the mythical Deerfield, La.
"My Sunshine Away" registers the joys, anxieties and tragedies of Baton Rouge's aspiring middle class.