Kirkus Reviews QR Code


by M.O. Walsh

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 2020
ISBN: 978-0-7352-1848-2
Publisher: Putnam

When a photo booth–type machine in the grocery store starts spitting out predictions of people’s true callings, the residents of Deerfield, Louisiana, are deeply affected.

“In the way that aspiring novelists might like to imagine their work someday being discussed in a sophomore literature class…or the way philosophers like to chart the evolution of thought from Socrates to Plato to Jay-Z…Douglas also liked to imagine himself one day becoming part of some traceable lineage.” Douglas Hubbard, a happily married high school history teacher, has a fantasy of becoming a famous jazz trombone player. He’s even signed up for lessons. Unlike the other dreamers in his little town, he came up with this idea all by himself, on his 40th birthday. His wife and many of his neighbors, on the other hand, are carrying around little blue slips of paper produced by a machine called the DNAMIX. They say things like ROYALTY, CARPENTER, LOVER, and MAGICIAN, and because of them the school principal, the mayor, and many others in Deerfield are quitting their jobs, buying costumes, and planning major life changes. There’s something a little strange about Walsh’s follow-up to his remarkable first novel, My Sunshine Away (2015). On one hand, it has a warm, folksy, Fannie Flagg–type feeling, complete with John Prine references galore (the title is one) and a goofy touch of magic. On the other hand, like the author’s debut, it addresses very serious and disturbing issues. It opens with the death of a teenager, as experienced by his twin, and later adds intimations of a school shooting, a gang rape, and a terrible revenge plot. Both aspects are well handled, but do they really go together? When you get a bereaved dad dressed up in a ludicrous cowboy outfit intervening to rescue his son from being gunned down by the police you have to wonder.

An eccentric, well-written small-town novel jam-packed with appealing characters and their dreams.