Tuesday, July 18, 2017


Title: The Night the Lights Went Out
Author: Karen White
Publisher: Berkley
Pages: 418

A lot can happen on The Night the Lights Went Out. In this case, it literally pushed the action forward, which until then was ambling along at an extremely slow pace.

Set in Sweet Apple, Georgia, the heart of the American South, this is the story of Merilee Talbot Dunlap and Sugar Prescott, whose lives have more in common than they imagine at first glance.

Merilee is moving house along with her kids, 10-year-old Lily and 8-year-old Colin. Her husband, Michael, has had an affair with their daughter’s teacher, leading to their divorce.

Merilee rents a cottage belonging to Sugar Prescott, the 93-year-old owner of a huge property. Sugar is determined not to befriend Merilee, to keep her distance.

At her kids’ new school, Merilee meets the other mothers. None are as friendly as the tall and sinewy Heather Blackford, the class mother who goes out of her way to cultivate a friendship with Merilee.

As Merilee struggles to make sense of her new reality, she finds help in Sugar, and in architect-cum-handyman Wade Kimball, the grandson of Sugar’s best friend.

Meanwhile, her every movement is watched and reported by a new blog, The Playing Fields Blog where somebody who is identified as Your Neighbour offers Observations of Suburban Life from Sweet Apple, Georgia. What that translates into is gossip, but there are also some very valid observations and learning.

Slowly Merilee and Sugar build a friendship, and the younger woman begins to rely increasingly on Sugar’s ability to hold her together when she is almost falling apart. Sugar too finds herself warming up to Merilee and her children, even though she has no experience of children.

Her friendship with Heather also intensifies, until it all comes apart on the night of a fund-raising gala, when Heather’s husband, Dr Daniel Blackford, who had been seen to offer his friendship (and more?) to Merilee, is found dead, with one of Merilee’s shoes found next to his body.

Did Merilee kill Dr Daniel Blackford or is she being framed? And if so, will she able to prove her innocence? That’s the story.

The story was written from the 3rd person past tense point of view of Sugar, back in 1934 and now, and Merilee now. These chapter alternated with posts from the blog.

The blog itself had a very pleasant style, and even though nobody has any right to write about other people’s lives under the cloak of anonymity, the posts made for interesting reading. I liked the blog posts for their ability to connect seemingly unconnected things. 

The style was genial, infused with Southern warmth and Old World comfort, while emphasizing the Southern way of asking questions, carefully prodding like a doctor on a sore spot.

The Southern phrases that peppered the posts were a treat.

Sample these: You can’t tell the size of the turnips by looking at their tops.
It’s fixin’ to come up a bad cloud.
You can put your boots in the oven, but that don’t make ’em biscuits.
You’re driving your chickens to the wrong market.
One day you’re the peacock, and the next you’re the feather duster.

Whether you can relate to the imagery or not, the meaning is clear and requires no explanation. Even so, I loved the explanation that the blogger offered, as well as the striking use of Bless his/her heart, the great insult couched in a euphemism.

Of the characters, I liked Sugar more. The descriptions in her chapters were rich with detail. Her memories were beautiful, and the stories that come tumbling out of her past give us a better understanding of why she is the way she is today. Sugar decides she would never love anything again that she couldn’t bear to lose.

Reading her account helps us to understand her belief in karma and how not everything that is broken can be fixed. It is also a reminder of how time changes things. Maybe time was more covert, slowly spooling the years until there was no thread left behind you and all that remained was a stranger’s face in the mirror.

For her age, Sugar does have a fabulously detailed memory, which would have been fine since it is in 3rd person. But when it appears that Sugar is sharing these stories with Merilee, it begins to feel unreal.

I found Merilee rather silly. First, she doesn’t have a passcode for her phone, then, at Wade’s insistence, she sets it at 1111, and tells everyone about it. Also, despite knowing that champagne affects her, she still drinks on the night of the fund-raising gala. I hoped such stupidity wouldn’t come back to bite her. But, of course, it did.

It is in the interactions of Sugar and Merilee that the story begins to grow on you. Some unspoken agreement that their scar patterns might fit together like pieces to a puzzle refers to Merilee and Wade, but it could as well refer to her and Sugar.

Merilee has never had a good relationship with her very toxic and unsupportive parents, and Sugar fills that gap. Their friendship grows as Sugar sees herself in Merilee, in their secretiveness, their relationships with their mothers, their closeness with their brothers and their anxiety that they have let them down.

A pretty good read.

(I got a free ARC from FirstToRead).

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...