I heard Shawn Colvin's 1996 murder ballad "Sunny Came Home" on the radio a few days ago. Even after several years, it still intrigues me. (That cheerful mandolin at the beginning. Those dark lyrics. Colvin's chilling semi-twang, laying it all out.) Ever since the song was released, it gave me a peculiar feeling. I was reminded of something, someone, but I couldn't quite say.
I've finally figured it out. Book flashback. I've connected "Sunny Came Home" to a 1975 novel called My Sister Gone by Kathryn Marshall.
This brief novel tells the story of two sisters, Carrie and Helen, growing up in East Texas. There's something not quite right in the family, and 11-year-old Carrie wants revenge, although she seems to think of it as justice. (Carrie is the character who reminds me of Sunny in Colvin's song.) Helen, who is two years younger (and the narrator of My Sister Gone) reacts differently, seeming to will herself into a fog that never completely lifts, even as the years pass.
Although the characters are young, it's not a YA novel. A reviewer on Amazon made a comparison with To Kill A Mockingbird. Not even close. My Sister Gone is blunt, gritty and graphic. I remember recoiling at practically everything in the book, yet I also thought it was brilliantly done.
Since I was only in middle school when My Sister Gone came out, I'm not sure about how much of a stir it created. From what I can remember, it now seems as if it was way ahead of its time. For example, readers who are attracted to Gillian Flynn's books would be interested in My Sister Gone.
Originally published by Harper & Row, the novel was reissued in 1992 by Clark City Press. I'd like to see it issued a third time so a new generation could discover it and I could read it again and see if it is the same book that still haunts me after nearly 40 years.