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The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White
Publication date: April 11, 2017
My rating: 4 stars out of 5
Recently divorced, Merilee Talbot Dunlap moves with her two children to the Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. It’s not her first time starting over, but her efforts at a new beginning aren’t helped by an anonymous local blog that dishes about the scandalous events that caused her marriage to fail.
Merilee finds some measure of peace in the cottage she is renting from town matriarch Sugar Prescott. Though stubborn and irascible, Sugar sees something of herself in Merilee—something that allows her to open up about her own colorful past.
Sugar’s stories give Merilee a different perspective on the town and its wealthy school moms in their tennis whites and shiny SUVs, and even on her new friendship with Heather Blackford. Merilee is charmed by the glamorous young mother’s seemingly perfect life and finds herself drawn into Heather's world.
In a town like Sweet Apple, where sins and secrets are as likely to be found behind the walls of gated mansions as in the dark woods surrounding Merilee’s house, appearance is everything. But just how dangerous that deception can be will shock all three women....
My reviewI received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions shared are 100% my own.
This is the second book from Karen White that I have read. The first, The Sound of Glass, was more of an unlikely sisterhood story. This story is more about unlikely friendships and which ones you can trust and which ones you can’t. Ms. White is a master of writing about the Deep South and the Southern Bells and Steel Magnolias who live there. The story telling in The Night the Lights Went Out, as well as The Sound of Glass, was superb.
Merilee Dunlap is a recently divorced mother of two, and Sugar Prescott is the nonagenarian who owns the rental house Merilee moves into after her divorce. Both women have secrets and both women need a friend. The story is told from four different perspectives: Merilee’s in current times, Sugar’s in current times, Sugar’s in the past, and by the unknown and observant author of a blog about the goings-on in the quiet little suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia. I enjoyed this setup, particularly how the author handled Sugar’s flashbacks. So often, flashbacks are included as a way for the reader to know what happened in the past but they aren’t written in a way for the other modern characters in the book to know the information. Sometimes authors don’t keep this information clear and a modern character wounds up “knowing” something from a flashback they never had reason to learn. In The Night the Lights Went Out, Ms. White writes Sugar’s recollections as stories she is sharing with Merilee about her past. But rather than the story be all modern dialogue, the author switches the perspective to a flashback scene with Sugar as the narrator. She does a good job then of not having the “old” Sugar have the perspective of the modern Sugar. I also enjoyed the blog posts. There were times I found myself noticing that we hadn’t heard from the blog author recently and hoped for a new post soon.
The side characters are also well developed. Often in novels with such interesting and complex main characters, the side characters become afterthoughts and wind up being a bit two-dimensional at best. Not here. Many of the secondary characters deserve stories of their own. I would have liked to see a bit more of Lindi Mathews, a local attorney and the other working mom at the prestigious private school, but even in her too-few appearances, she is a nuanced character.
Now, to my issue with the book, and this one is a personal one so it might not hold true for every reader. I figured out the mysteries early in almost every instance. I’m not sure that it was a fault of the author or if just somehow my brain leapt there on its own accord. There were a few side mysteries that were a surprise and just how far the “back guy” would go was shocking, but all in all, the big stuff? I had it figured out early. And I’m not normally one who tries to solve the mystery early! I really just like for it to unfold in the story and be taken along for the ride! As a result of constantly waiting for the other proverbial shoe to drop, the story wound up being extremely intense for me. Like Dan Brown intense! I was on edge and anxious and wound up having trouble sleeping until I got this book finished in the last couple days. Ack! I am still recommending the book. But I am glad it is over now so maybe my brain can settle down!
If you are looking for a light, fluffy chick-lit novel for by the pool, this is not it. It’s only my second Karen White book, but based on what I know so far, her books aren’t it. They are however well written with characters you will love (or love to hate). If you’ve spent any time in the South (for me, 15 years in Mobile, Alabama), I think you’ll like this book. It helps if you can internally read the dialogue with a Georgia accent. I especially enjoyed the blog author’s explanations of some Southernisms. I knew many already but even I learned a thing or two. Lord willin’ and the creek don't rise, I plan on reading more Karen White.