I first came across Mary Carter early in 2007 with the release of her second book Accidentally Engaged, it was a delightfully madcap romp, I classed it as the literary version of the classic British  stage genre known as ‘Farce’. When I got wind that she had a new book coming out, I was keen to read it.

I managed to acquire a pre-release copy and sat down to explore this latest exploration of the written word.

To say the least I was surprised, I guess I was expecting another dose of Accidentally Engaged, Sunnyside Blues is not at all like her last book. Mary Carter has exchanged ‘humor’ for ‘horror’, oh not the chain saw body hacking type of horror, but rather more the personal horror of reconciling the past with the present, and even the future.

Our main character is Andes, a complex woman who seeks solace in continually moving her physical environment. It is almost as if the more places she moves to, the more distant and obliterated her past becomes. She also lives vicariously though the internet and collecting match books and postcards from her virtual travels.

We catch up with Andes in Seattle, she has made the decision to rent a houseboat, although she has no visible income, and little more than the first months rent she is compelled to this idea.

The houseboat owner Jay is a drunkard with a highly intelligent, aloof, and agenda driven 10 year old son, Chase. A more unlikely group you could not find, yet somehow they quickly find a bond.

Following another drunken rant Jay finds himself in jail for slugging a cop, as if that is not bad enough there are warrants for his arrest in another state, this is not going to be a night in the drunk tank and back in the local bar by noon the next day.

Andes finds herself in the role of surrogate mother, a role that she initially fights. However a visit to Chase’s biological mother makes it clear that she is in no shape physically or mentally to take on the responsibility.

Of further concern is the fact that there have been a number of arsons in the area, and Chase seems to have a huge interest in fire. Coincidental? Maybe. Andes is torn, is this 10 year old walking genius a pyromaniac by night? A Jekyll and Hyde?

Sunnyside Blues is an adventure into dysfunction and distrust. The characters are well developed and highly credible. I think I have met them all in real life! I found Sunnyside Blues to be a very absorbing book, there are no big fights, or global takeover bids by evil villains, yet it does hold the reader. A wonderful exploration into inner space is a better description of this book. Watching the gradual relationship grow between the precocious Chase and the not quite as worldly wise as she thinks she is, Andes, is a great adventure into the human psyche.

Sunnyside Blues is a book with a lot of ‘engineering’ behind it. Some books are written merely to enjoy and then move on from. This book on the other hand has been crafted to make the reader ask questions, it is not one story, it runs on different levels and different themes.

The copy I read was pre-publication, so I do not know for sure that this part made it to the final printing, but I hope it did. Right at the end Mary Carter has included a list of topics for discussion by reading groups. I have never seen this done in a book before, and I think it is a great idea. So if you run a reading group I suggest that you try Sunnyside Blues, and if you do, please drop me a comment about what you thought of the book.

This is a book that should be on everyones ‘to do’ list, you can get your copy from Amazon (well pre-order it, it goes on sale at the end of the month), Mary Carter also has a web site.

I will be doing a radio interview with Mary in the next week, I will update this review as soon as we have the schedule set.

Simon Barrett

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