Wednesday, September 30, 2020

M. O. Walsh: The Big Door Prize

 I had already read M. O. Walsh's earlier novel My Sunshine Away before he appeared on the virtual reveal party for the Southern Festival of Books. When he talked about his new novel The Big Door Prize, he had me at John Prine. For the unfamiliar, the title of the book is a line from "In Spite of Ourselves," Prine's duet with Iris DeMent. Several of the chapter titles are song titles, and I caught so many other references. (There's a casual mention that a local couple, Donald and Lydia, are divorcing.)

Yes, you can enjoy the novel without knowing anything about the late great singer-songwriter (although I'd recommend remediation if that's the case.) The novel follows Douglas Hubbard, a high school teacher, whose "midlife crisis" reaction to turning forty is to sign up for trombone lessons.

His wife Cherilyn is keeping busy painting birdhouses to sell at the centennial celebration of their small town, Deerfield, Louisiana. But the appearance of a DNAMIX machine at the local grocery shakes up everyone, including this generally happy couple. This machine, which appeared without explanation, for the price of $2 and a cheek swab will reveal anyone's destiny. The problem is that the read-outs not only defy logic, but also send many of the locals on a widely divergent path.

When Cherilyn grows weepy, attributed to her destiny card, Douglas resists the urge at first to see for himself what his DNAMIX reading might be. What will it mean, after all, if his happy marriage is a fluke that put both of them on a path that leads them away from their destiny? 

In a parallel story line, one of Hubbard's students who recently lost his brother in a wreck after a party finds his brother's former girlfriend pursuing him. Likewise, the school principal is taking early retirement after reading her destiny card.

The novel is less about the supernatural that about how people choose their own destinies and make their own happiness. Walsh takes readers along for a fun ride--one that has its own playlist. His session at the Southern Festival of Books is sure to be fun.


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