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Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White

I'm a HUGE fan of Karen White, so there wasn't much arm twisting to read her latest.  I am absolutely in love with the cover art.  

I bought this book, because I couldn't wait to read it...

And then proceeded to not get to it for almost FIVE MONTHS. When I finally did pick it up this week, I power read it in a few days, in between work and an out of town family visit. It was just the palate cleanser I needed.

The two main characters, Merilee Dunlap and Sugar Prescott meet when Merilee rents the cottage that sits behind Sugar's farmhouse outside the small town of Sweet Apple, Georgia.  Sugar is 93 years old, and still full of piss and vinegar.  She's a force to be reckoned with, and commands the respect of everyone in town.  Her family once owned most of the land around Sweet Apple, and she's resisting developers who want to buy the rest of her land to build more housing developments.

Merilee is freshly divorced; her two children are attending a new school, and she's dealing with the fall out of her husband's lover (a local elementary school math teacher) being pregnant.  Small town gossip is running at an all time high. Merilee is struggling to adjust to life as a single parent, and balance the demands of society expectations--school committees, sports, and making appearances at all the right places.  Sugar recognizes a kindred spirit, but her past sorrows and heartbreak have left Sugar reluctant to open her heart to anyone.  

Here's what I enjoyed about this novel:  as a reader, you see both Sugar and Merilee through each other's eyes, and through their own thoughts and memories.  Sugar begins to tell Merilee about her past in small stories; I found Sugar's life in the 30's and 40's to be one of the best parts of the novel.  Makes what we consider difficult today seem like child's play.  These stories are a bridge between Sugar and Marilee as they slowly (very slowly) become friends.  

Merilee, I have to say, was much more complicated than I expected. I was, however, highly annoyed at her absent-mindedness and inability to create a safe password for her phone.  It sounds like a silly thing to point out, but it was a major plot point, and you could see what was going to happen coming long before it did.  Merilee's friendship with Heather Blackford, the wealthy, beautiful, and powerful wife of a popular doctor is bad from the get go.  That plot, I thought, was pretty weak.  Anyone with some life experience knows that people don't befriend you and go out of their way to be overly generous with time, money, and resources unless they want something from you.  Or want to hurt you.  It's not hard to see what's going to happen in this case, but I did get wrapped up in the action steaming along to the big turning point.  

One part of the story I found unnecessary was the "blog" that was put out by an anonymous source in Sweet Apple.  Full of local gossip, it spotlighted the nasty rumors and the people spreading them.  It was basically a way to shame people into behaving instead of spreading malicious gossip and half-truths.  Wasn't hard to figure out who the author of the blog was, but it is finally revealed at the end.  

The big point of this novel is that we all put on public faces, but they are rarely our real faces.  We keep a lot of our lives hidden from everyone else. Past heartbreaks, tragedies, and bad behavior can keep us up at night; but come morning, we stride into our daily lives with none of it showing.  Sometimes the ugliest people hide behind pretty faces, and sometimes a bad person is just a bad person with no redeeming qualities.  

Even though there were parts of the novel I didn't care for, overall I did very much enjoy this book.  I found myself talking out loud when I figured something out before Merilee did; I found myself reading this in big gulps because it kept pulling me along (and I didn't resist that pull).  I spent a whole morning before work lying on my couch reading, and anxiously waiting until I could come home again to finish the last few pages.  

Rating:  4/6 for a novel that explores the choices women make in their youth that can haunt them; the good and bad of living in a small town, and strong friendships between women that become the backbone to overcoming the hard parts of life.  There's a bit of potential romance in here, too--but not so much that it gets in the way.  

Available in hardcover, e-book, large print paperback, and audio.

 

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