The Night the Lights Went Out
By Karen White
Author’s website: http://www.karen-white.com/index.cfm
Brought to you by OBS Reviewer Daniele
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.
The Night the Lights Went Out is full of Southern charm, telling the tale of the unlikely friendship between a single mother starting over in life after heartbreak and her tough elderly landlord who has had trials of her own. Part women’s fiction and part mystery, with a little romance and a big bunch of humor thrown in, it is a satisfying read sure to please Karen White’s fans.
Sugar Prescott, at ninety-three years of age, has outlived her entire family. Though she is the most prominent resident in Sweet Apple, Georgia, she is prickly and set in her ways. She rents the cottage behind her house to Merilee Dunlap and her two young children. Merilee is hoping that the move to a new house and a new school will help relieve the sting of her recent divorce. She is mortified when an anonymous blogger starts airing all of her dirty laundry, and she does not exactly fit in with the other mothers at her kids’ new private school. However, one of the mothers, Heather, takes an unusual interest in her. Though initially determined to keep their landlord/tenant relationship just that, Sugar cannot help but see a bit of herself in Merilee and slowly opens up her heart and her past. When someone tragically dies, all hell breaks loose for Merilee, but Sugar is by her side through it all.
I really enjoyed The Night the Lights Went Out, especially Sugar. She tries ever so hard to keep her hard exterior shell in place, but you can tell right away that she is all heart beneath her guard. The action takes place in present day and through “flashback” stories in the years leading up to World War II. These threads about Sugar’s childhood and young adult years are my favorite parts of the book. These revelations, which she has kept hidden for most of her life, are fraught with pain, loss, sacrifice, and forlornness. Her struggles during the Great Depression are a stark contrast to the affluent culture presented in present day Sweet Apple.
At first, I did not find Merilee to be particularly strong, but as time passes and more information about her own experiences is revealed she grew on me, and I decided she did indeed have fortitude and determination. I sympathize with her situation, having to suffer the embarrassment of her husband’s affair with their daughter’s math teacher (and subsequent pregnancy), and her feelings of being overwhelmed and inadequate. The whole atmosphere of the school and her interactions with the other mothers, with the exception of one fellow outsider, make my skin crawl. There is so much pressure to make everything and every child perfect, and it all manifests in ten-year-old Lily’s anxiety. Heather plays a pivotal role in the tale, which I will not spoil here, but it so easy to question her motives. The anonymous blogger provides cheeky levity to the story, and I am pleased that the writer is who I suspected all along.
While the story moves along at a steady pace, with secrets steadily divulged, it is not until about three quarters of the way through that the book that the suspense kicks in and it becomes utterly compelling. I just had to stay up past my bedtime to see how it all played out. White’s writing is at times spellbinding, and she does a good job of tying all of the threads together providing a gratifying ending. With its ideal Southern setting, and all the charm that goes with it, and captivating, complex characters, I can heartily recommend The Night the Lights Went Out.