Review: The Night the Lights Went Out by Karen White

5 “True Friends & Secrets” Stars for the story and 4.5 Stars for the narration!
The Night the Lights Went Out is a combination of two Southern mysteries and a women’s fiction title all wrapped up in one.  Told from three points of view, a 93 year-old small town matriarch, the main protagonist who is a recent divorcee with two children, and an anonymous town blogger, this audiobook is a must listen to gem!
15 hours went by in a flash when I listened to this intriguing title that has a little something for everyone.  As I’m an avid romance book listener I think its important to note that while this title is not a traditional romance, it does have a romance undercurrent with a HFN outcome, so I also encourage romance listeners who enjoy women’s fiction titles to give this book a listen.
Merilee Talbot Dunlap has to start a new life after discovering that her husband had an affair with a third grade teacher from their two children’s elementary school.  Knowing that the kids would never survive the gossip at their old school, Merilee moves with her two children to the small, affluent town and Atlanta suburb of Sweet Apple, Georgia.
Think of Sweet Apple as a yuppie, small town where roundabouts, SUVs, and coffee shops abound. Of course the exclusive private school that Merilee enrolls her children in is no different and Merilee quickly is thrown into the rich culture even as she’s adopted by the “queen” of the town, Heather Blackford.
But Merilee is not as rich as the town’s inhabitants and is only able to afford the expensive private school because her ex-husband’s parents are paying for it, so keeping up with the Joneses is not easy for Merilee.  Fortunately, and yet unexpectedly, Heather tries to ease some of this burden by subsidizing some of its social burdens as well as by including Merilee on some of the prestigious school committees and inviting her to exclusive town parties.
Further helping Merilee make ends meet is the fact that she was fortunate to have found a sublet from Sugar, the 93 year-old matriarch of the town whose family at one point owned much of the land.  At the same time that Merilee is developing her relationship with Heather, she is also slowly developing a parallel relationship with Sugar (to the town’s great surprise because Sugar has not been particularly friendly to many people much less allowed them to sublet from her).
Then there is also Sugar’s best friend’s grandson who starts visiting Merilee to help out with home projects and they start forming a bond, and Merilee’s ex-husband, and even Heather’s husband who due to the frequent get-togethers between Merilee and Heather, also begins to form a friendship with Merilee.
However, not all is what it seems, and secrets and sins pervade the small town.  Additionally, as the anonymous town’s blogger seems to see all, and starts revealing some gossip worthy observations, Merilee is put in some rather uncomfortable positions (especially as her children also seem to be aware of the blog). Just who are her true friends and who in Sweet Apple can Merilee truly count on?
The Night the Lights Went Out is narrated in a somewhat unusual and yet especially fitting fashion for a book that is told from 3 POVs.  Therefore it is no surprise that we have three narrators:  Carolyn Cook , Susan Larkin, and Tiffany Morgan. I must admit that as all three narrators are new to me and all narrate from a female character’s perspective, I’m not really sure which narrator reads which POV.  However, I can tell you that one narrator is assigned to each of the 3 POVs being shared: Merilee’s, Sugar’s, and the anonymous blogger’s. This style works well to differentiate the POVs. Additionally as Sugar’s passages are told from the past (revealing things that happened to her and her family and friends in Sweet Apple when she was a child/young adult), it also helps differentiate whether the story is being told in the present or past tense.

The narrator who narrates the blogger’s perspective has a perfect snarky tone as you would except someone revealing some tongue-in-cheek gossip which I thought worked perfectly in this book.  Sugar’s narrator in turn gives Sugar a much more pronounced Southern and elderly sound which I thought also worked well for her passages too.  Merilee’s narrator, as you would expect of the main protagonist, had the heaviest load of the narration burden. This narrator does a relatively good job in most aspects juggling the large cast that plays a part in Merilee’s passages.  Perhaps my only critical observation of this narrator, however, is that while she excelled at delivering distinguishable female characters, her male characters were all pretty similar in pitch (and not very deep, so somewhat similar to some of her female characters) making it a little more difficult to differentiate the male characters just by her voice.

All in all, this is one of the best suspense/thriller and women’s fiction titles I have listened to this year.  I found every aspect well done: from the dual unfolding of the current mystery and the revelation of the past one to the bilateral parallel stories of how “friendships” both aided and led to the evolution of these mysteries.  This is a book that will leave you both questioning who your true friends are as well as appreciating how necessary true friendships are to a life well lived.

This was my first Karen White book, and wow was I impressed!  I will definitely be looking to listen to more of her titles in the near future.
Source: Review copy provided for review purposes.