Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Book Review: The Night the Lights Went Out

By Jami Deise

Most of my reader friends and I are just as hooked on serialized TV series as we are on our favorite books. I’ve participated in several blog hops in which we’ve discussed the ups and downs of loving shows about zombies, hot hospital doctors, shady politicians, and grown-up triplets. So when southern women’s fiction author Karen White’s latest book, The Night the Lights Went Out, was pitched as Desperate Housewives meets Revenge, naturally I was game.

I’ll be honest: There are some significant problems with this book, mainly its reliance on too many coincidences, an uneven tone, an obvious villain, and too many flashbacks. However, I enjoyed the book so much, I looked past its faults even while I was categorizing them.

Like the title implies, Night takes place in Georgia – specifically, Sweet Apple, Georgia, a sprawling Atlanta suburb where farms and forests are being bulldozed for neighborhoods and shopping malls. It’s not quite paving paradise to put up a parking lot, but it’s close. Ninety-three-year old Sugar Prescott isn’t happy about all these changes, but what choice does she have? As developers sniff around what’s left of her farm, she’s forced to rent out her guest cottage to newly divorced Merilee Talbot Dunlap and her two children. But she’s not going to be forced to like it, or Merilee. Just because she’s a landlord doesn’t mean she’s a friend.

Merilee is so vulnerable, readers have to root for her. Her husband Michael left her for their children’s math teacher, forcing Merilee not only to move out of her marital home, but to find a new school for their children – the private Windwood Academy, where all the moms are thin, spend their days doing yoga, and drive enormous SUVs. This clique should turn their backs on Merilee, but surprisingly, queen bee Heather Blackford takes the woman under her wing. While Merilee navigates PTA politics, she and Sugar bond about their pasts: Merilee feels responsible for her younger brother’s drowning when she was a teenager, and Sugar shares tale after tale of her Perils of Pauline past. This section of the book, which feels like Desperate Housewives meets Driving Miss Daisy, slows down the book enormously and is responsible for its problems with tone.

Once Sugar’s tales of woe are done, the book concentrates on Merilee’s relationships with the PTA women, and that’s when the book hits its stride. Even though I knew what was coming and why, and even though the coincidences piled up, I read along eagerly. While the writer wasn’t brave enough to pull off the final twist I was hoping for, the climax is nothing less than solid, campy fun. And yes, it happens during a power outage.

I wish White had had a stronger editor for Night, but I suppose when you’ve written as many books as she has, you get a pass. Nevertheless, perhaps it’s time to update the lyrics to Vicki Lawrence’s most famous song. That back woods southern lawyer isn’t the only one you shouldn’t trust your soul to.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Karen White: