A weird, experimental debut novel, Oh God, the Sun Goes is set in a world where the sun has mysteriously, unexplainably disappeared. As an unnamed narrator heads west, the book takes a hairpin turn into a searing and eerie romance.
The summary for Oh God, the Sun Goes is below, followed by the previously released cover and a two-chapter excerpt.
The sun has disappeared from the sky. No one can explain where it has gone, but one wayward traveler is determined to try. As our unnamed narrator begins his odyssey across the parched landscapes of the American Southwest, he is drawn into a web of illusion and mystery, a shifting astral mindscape that shimmers with the aftermath of loss—and the promise of redemption.
The walk across the parking lot is a long one. It stretches out like a walk through a desert—a second becomes a minute and then an hour and then a second again. And after a few moments pass, a car pulls up next to me and someone rolls down the window.
“Hi there,” says a woman, smoking a camel out the driver’s side. She taps it against the window.
“You left this in the diner,” she says, reaching down and grabbing an envelope—she hands it to me.
Ah, I mutter. “Can’t believe I forgot.”
She nods. A car pulls into the lot.
“Are you from Tempe?”
“No,” I say. “I’ve been here a month.”
“A month,” says the woman, taking a smoke of the cigarette.
Her hair is the color of the camel. “What brings you here?” “The sun,” I say. “I’m looking for it.”
“I see,” says the woman, staring now. “Looking for it.” “I am,” I say.
The woman pauses for a minute, then speaks again.
“You know, my son, he’s the star of the swim team at school.”
“The day the sun went missing, he woke up and forgot how to swim. I swear to god, the day the sun went away, my son jumped in the pool and sunk straight to the bottom, completely forgot how to move his arms and legs, his teammates had to pull him out.”
“He was going to swim at nationals. He’d been training all year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I say, and the woman nods in agreement, blinking an eye.
“Anyway,” she says, outing her cigarette on the side of the car. “I should get going,” and within a minute, she taps on the gas and pulls suddenly away.
And for a moment I’m thinking about the bottom of pools, about the star of the swim team sinking to the bottom, waking up one morning and forgetting how to swim. The same day the sun goes missing, how odd.
A moment later, and I’m on the highway.
I’m on a road headed out of Tempe, towards the desert, winding and unwinding into the distance like a shoelace loosening itself—a burlap ribbon coming undone—Tempe is behind now, and the desert is ahead.
The desert is a long expanse of dirt, and rocks and crags and cacti that line the road like hitchhikers looking for a ride. The sky here is the same sky as anywhere, but brighter now, but somehow harder to see. As the desert goes on, its shapes come only slightly into focus, each rock a hidden object in sand.
Somewhere in the distance is a town named Sun City, which is where I’m headed today, to meet Dr. Higley. Sun City—of all names for a town in Arizona—is where Dr. Higley lives, where he’s lived for the past eighteen years with his wife, Martha Adie. Dr. Higley is now retired, but apparently in his day he was a leading mind in the field of solar astronomy, specifically helioseismology, the study of the sun and its seismic movements. Sun City is about forty miles away from Tempe, just north of Phoenix, and I should get there with plenty of daytime to kill.
The road I’m on now is becoming more and more narrow, which is nice because there’s less to focus on—the mind can wander elsewhere, like towards the landscape and the thoughts layered in it—a thought of a rock passes beside me, and without knowing, I’m thinking about a mountain I once climbed—I’m thinking about the top of the mountain, how quiet it was, how you could see for miles in every direction— I’m thinking about how the mountain looked out over a desert, and how the desert looked very much like this one, sparse and wide open, with craters and crags everywhere.
A thought of a shrub passes by, and then a ditch, and a burrow, and suddenly the image of sand comes over my mind and I’m thinking about something someone once told me about sand. They said sand is like the past—it’s the same and different each time you see it. They mentioned something about a footprint, about how things are always a little different, I forget exactly what they said.
I think about something else, and then another, and then I look down at the passenger’s seat and notice the envelope resting there, the one the woman handed me outside the diner. It’s blank and facing down, so I turn it over and notice a name printed on the front in black ink. I stare down at the letters, but they’re smudged and hard to decipher. I pull the envelope closer to my face, but the words are too jumbled to make out.
I focus on the road, then back on the envelope, and squint my eyes to see what it reads, but again, the letters spell out nothing. If I didn’t know better, I’d say the letters weren’t letters but pictographs—one of a mountain—one of a moon— one of a smaller mountain—another of a key.
I look out the window and notice a cloud float by—it’s also unsure of its shape, floating east towards a plateau in the distance. I watch it morph from one thing into another, until I look down again at the envelope and notice a word beginning to form from the smudge.
From, it reads.
Who? I think, and then I see it. In the distance, a cloud is turning grey.
M, it reads. From M.
The letter M
and suddenly I begin to cry.
And soon outside the window, the cloud begins to rain. It’s pouring over a plateau in the distance.
From M, I say aloud, and mutter it again, until I realize I’m not sure who M is, and I’m not sure why I’m crying. From M, I say again, and realize the tears keep falling, there’s no stopping them. I open the letter and read what’s written, it’s a single phrase:
Miss you, always —M
M, I repeat to myself, and fold the note over. I place it back in the envelope and fold the envelope over, and over twice more.
Who’s M? I think, searching my mind as if searching the desert for a footprint but nothing, but nothing—after some time, I give it a rest and focus back on the road. I glue my eyes to the road signs and wait for something to signal the approach of Sun City, until I see it in the distance, a sign and then a town behind it. A desert town. A mirage rising from the ground.
I step on the gas and send the car flying. Outside the windows, the clouds have cleared—the sky is the color of a clue.
A city emerges from flatness. Like floating, like falling slowly asleep.
If the town of Sun City appeared as a vision in a dream, it would most likely be a daydream, and it would most likely be a town where all the houses are the same more or less—the lawns the same hue of green, the streets aligned in the same way in each corner of the grid. At one end of town, there would be a golf course with a large water fountain at the center, a man-made lake with ducks and lily pads and reeds along the side. At the center of town, there would be a post office, and a post office employee standing outside the office waving. In the corner of his eye, there would be a reflection of a bird traveling at a few hundred feet aboveground, the bird’s vision taking in an aerial view of the scene, which reveals a town in the shape of a perfect O, a circle of houses surrounding a radial center and expanding out towards the desert in perfect symmetry. A Sun City, indeed, a town in the shape of a sun. If Sun City appeared in a dream, it would be a dream induced by the heat of the desert or induced in a state of delusion brought on from driving too many miles. If Sun City were a town in a dream, it would be a town that doesn’t make sense in the desert, too round, too green. If Sun City were a town in a dream, it would be a retirement town and all of its residents would be over the age of sixty-five. They would drive golf carts and wear similar shirts and make jokes whose punch lines ended with immediate laughter. The laughter would start violently and then trail off as everyone caught their breath. If Sun City were a town in a dream, it would be a desert town, a sleeping eye, a flattened sun. But Sun City is not a town in a dream but a town in Arizona, in the northern bounds of the Maricopa County line, just twenty miles north of Phoenix, a few miles farther from Tempe.
“Is everything all right?” a voice asks as I step out of my car into the asphalt parking lot.
A man stands at the center of the asphalt, a pair of binoculars in his hands. He’s an older man, a resident of Sun City.
“Is everything all right?” he asks again, setting the binoculars to his side. The man is heavyset, blue-eyed, reddish face. On his shirt, he has a tag that reads Parking Lot Attendant.
“I’m all right,” I say, gathering to my feet. “Just here to meet somebody.”
“Who’s that?” says the man, stepping closer.
“I’m looking for the sun,” I say. “I’m here to see Dr. Higley.”
It becomes clear that the man is a longtime resident of Sun City, a volunteer at the Visitor’s Center. He pauses for a minute, and his face becomes redder.
“Higley?” says the man. “Higley.”
“That’s right,” I say. “I believe he lives here.”
“Well, this is a retirement town,” says the man, looking straight at me then blinking. “We’ve got over twenty thousand residents here.”
I look around.
“Higley,” repeats the man, adjusting the tag on his shirt—it’s a collared shirt, color of mud, he ruffles it. “You know what?” he says. “That name sounds familiar. Let me run inside and check.”
The man turns around and disappears through a pair of double doors—Visitor’s Center—a moment later, he comes back with a note in his hand.
“I got ahold of his wife,” he says, “Martha,” slipping me the note: “14073 Oakmont Drive, that’s the address. And so you know, they’re not expecting you for a few hours.”
“That’s what I thought,” I say. “Thank you.”
“If you’ve got time,” adds the man in a low voice. “There’s somewhere in town I think you should visit. It’s not far from their house, good place to pass an hour.”
“Sure,” I say.
“It’s the Sun City Museum,” says the man. “Good place to pass time.”
“Okay,” I say. “I’ll think about it”—and thank him. “Just to pass time,” says the man, smiling.
I nod and head back towards my car. And the man re- turns to his post and reaches for his binoculars. He waves as I leave the parking lot.
“Just to pass time,” he yells again, waving. A minute later, he’s gone.
A minute later, I’m driving through the middle of Sun City, past one-story bungalow houses, and rooftop satellite dishes, and sprinklers in yards twisting in precise mechanical spasms, relieving the grass of its dryness and heat. Must be the hour for that, because the sprinklers are moving at a fairly quick pace, turning each yard into a color of green that doesn’t belong in the desert.
After some driving, a yard appears up ahead with a sign in the front reading Sun City Museum, so I pull over the car and step outside.
Sun City Township, established 1960,
Del E. Webb Construction Company.
A placard reads:
Sun City Museum. Municipal Landmark.
The museum is a house at the end of the block, no different from the others around it—yard, rooftop, antenna—an identical antenna atop each slated roof, atop each one-story home in Sun City, pointing upward and awkwardly at the same desert sky. After a sprinkler’s twist, I open the front door of the museum and step inside a dark room.
The only discernible trace at first is a smell, an odor like metal or perfume. As the door opens further the odor fades, and a room comes into focus, a living room set as if from the year 1960.
At the center of the room is a long oak coffee table—next to it, a couch and a sand-colored carpet stretching halfway across the floor. The couch is wrapped in a thin plastic slipcover, and resting atop the table are a few items like a pen- nwood clock, a triangle ashtray, and a small silver tin of assorted caramel candies. From a room in the back, the sound of a radio can be heard just barely, playing an old-fashioned group like the Fleetwoods or the Everly Brothers.
Dreeeeeeeam dream dream dream
The sound of a person can be heard as well, shuffling some papers in a back office, until it becomes clear that they’ve noticed my presence, and the radio shuts off, a pair of feet scurrying out to the entrance room to greet me.
“Hi there!” a woman says, appearing from the hallway.
I say hi as well and the woman nods accordingly. A bright shade of eye shadow marks the upper half of her eyelids, and approaching closer, I can tell that the smell of the museum is coming from her.
“Hi,” I say again, and explain who I am. The woman says I better make myself at home, and she closes the door behind us, as a light bulb sputters on in the corner.
What’s striking about the house is how well it resembles a slightly older home—the woman explains that the furniture is preserved from when the house first opened. “It hasn’t changed since 1960,” she says. She mentions that it was the very first house constructed in Sun City.
I step farther in and the woman shows me a figure on the wall. It’s a cardboard cutout of Del Webb, the town’s founder. “The greatest of all my accomplishments were the Sun Cities,” it reads in bold lettering on a text square above him. He’s not a handsome man, but maybe presidential in appearance.
“He’s beloved around here, he really is,” says the woman, beaming. “Everything in Sun City can be traced back to Del Webb.”
“Seems important,” I say.
“He was,” says the woman, beaming. “Important.”
The woman looks at me brightly, then retreats to the corner to fix the faltering light bulb.
“Del Webb,” she mutters. “Remember that name.”
I smile and step inside, and the woman returns to the back. Across the room, I notice a map on the wall with a layout of Sun City on it—a town indeed shaped after its namesake. If the map shows anything, it shows a town that was meticulously planned, a circular grid expanding out towards the desert in reticular fashion—emanating from a singular point in the middle which, according to the map, appears to be a parking lot, an empty spot, the lot I’d parked in earlier.
SUN CITY is a master-planned retirement community, reads the placard to its right. Developed by DELBERT WEBB and the DEL WEBB CONSTRUCTION COMPANY: to serve as an active-living retirement town for those in the latter portion of their lives.
Below: It is one of several across the United States. There are over a dozen Sun Cities built throughout the region alone. California, Utah, Nevada, Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas . . .
I turn around and notice the woman standing there.
“Isn’t it great?” she says, hovering like a statue. I nod and the two of us stare.
“It’s just so nice,” she says, smiling. I say it sure seems that way.
The woman takes a loud, thrilled breath. “It’s just so nice,” she says, nearly shouting.
I hear a second sound coming from the back room and notice there’s another person in the house. A moment later, a pair of feet shuffle out into the living room and a man appears, the woman’s husband. “Berta!” he yells. Then he sees me and changes his expression a bit.
“Berta,” he says, shifting tone. “Did you show our visitor the Del Webb room?”
“Yes, honey, I did, he knows.”
The man stares at me and smiles affirmatively. A stern smile. “That’s so good to hear,” he says, assured. He stares at me until Berta speaks up.
“I just love everything,” she says, beaming. “It’s all so great.” “Everything in Sun City?” I ask, staring at Berta. “Everything, honey. I love everything.”
She points me to the corner.
DEL WEBB is an avid golfer and a part owner of the NEW YORK YANKEES franchise. He has played several rounds of golf with famous personality Bob Hope. Picture below.
“What do you think of it?” asks Berta’s husband now, stepping in.
“Seems all right,” I mutter, briefly looking around.
“You know Mr. Webb is beloved around here,” he says, staring towards me. “Mr. Webb. Mr. Webb. He was a very special man, indeed, very special. A man. Special. Very special.”
“Some would call him a visionary.”
The man walks towards me. He appears somewhat sturdy and tall, as though he played a ball sport when he was younger. I look at his eyes and notice them soften slightly, as though he’s taking something in.
“You look tired,” he says to me, and I pause. “Like you’ve been traveling for a while.” A second pause. I say it’s true, I’ve been on the move now for a little bit, and the man says nothing, letting a certain type of quiet enter the room between us, the type that can only enter a room between breaks in a conversation. “You remind me of my brother,” he says, smiling. “He was just like you, my brother, always traveling, always on the move.”
I say nothing but let the man know I’ve heard.
“We used to joke, about my brother, we’d say he was always traveling, even when he was standing still. We’d say he was always half in a room, and half somewhere else. You don’t need a car to travel, there’s other ways,” says the man, and I say I suppose that’s true.
It’s strange hearing the man say what he thinks of me, his impression, in a sense because I haven’t had much time to think myself the past few weeks, driving around and around in the desert—it’s not a landscape that lends itself to many mirrors. And on top of that, and more significant maybe, is that my mind’s been kind of fuzzy the past month—since the sun went missing, I’ve sort of forgotten most things.
For instance, past a month, I don’t remember much of the sun. What it looked like, how it felt to be underneath it, that round glowing orb—I mean I know what I’m looking for, but for some reason, I can’t really remember its image. When I close my eyes, it’s not there.
Better that way, I figure, because I imagine if I did remember the sun, it’d be too horribly sad, to remember some- thing so big, that’s missing now. In a way I think maybe I hit the road to forget it—when the sun went missing, I wanted time to keep moving forward.
Only consequence of course is that I’ve forgotten quite a bit, nearly everything really, since the sun’s disappearance— all I can remember is the past month. Who I am, my whereabouts, that’s all a mystery.
A noise clangs in the corner of the room and I look over. Berta and her husband are standing there, next to the lamp, which has just sputtered on. The two of them are staring at each other with loving eyes, pleased with their handiwork.
In the other corner of the room, I look at the clock, which has turned its hour hand a few notches down, later than I thought, I think, and realize already a few hours have passed. I turn back to Berta and her husband, who’ve begun remounting the lampshade over the bulb.
“I should go,” I say in a soft tone and point to the clock. Berta and her husband notice and agree it’s gotten late and tell me I should come again soon, and I say I’m sure I will, and they say they’re sure as well.
“Sun City’s not the sort of place you only come to once,” says the man to me, and I nod as if I know what he’s saying.
“Too much to see,” he says.
“I’m sure,” I say. “I will.” “We’ll be here,” says Berta.
I look at the man and notice something change—his face shifts a bit. For a second I swear he looks exactly like someone else—like a ghost, or maybe Del Webb—but an instant later, the look goes away. I start to say something but can’t think of any words.
“Remember that name,” says Berta. “D-E-L E W-E-B-B.”
“I will,” I say, and Berta and her husband help me to the door. And before I know it, I’m inside Dr. Higley’s house.
While we have attempted to replicate the formatting of the excerpt provided, some spacing may be different in the final publication. This two-chapter excerpt from Oh God, the Sun Goes by David Connor is reprinted with permission from Melville House.
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