“I don’t repeat gossip, so listen closely” is a phrase you might hear from one of the characters in New York Times Bestselling Author, Karen White’s latest offering, THE NIGHT THE LIGHTS WENT OUT.
For those of you who were born at a certain time in history, you’ll remember a song by an actress on the Carol Burnett Show, Vicki Lawrence, with the similar title, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia” and boy-howdy, the author acknowledges the song pretty early in the story, so hell yes, it was intentional. And hell yes, it adds to the mystique of the setting.
While, unlike the song, there’s no hanging, there is enough small-town, Southern gossip, innuendo, and scandal for a death or several. Southern belles aren’t as sweet as they seem, even in the town of Sweet Apple, Georgia, ya’ll.
The title is linked to Amazon and there are no spoilers ahead.
Merilee has just been gobsmacked by a scandal. Her husband Michael–the father of her young children–has been boinking their daughter’s third grade math teacher–a woman who is fresh out of college.
Plus the two adulterers moved real quick from one plus one equals two to Insert Tab A into Slot B & Baby Makes Three.
It’s enough to make any sane wife, mother, woman retreat to lick her wounds. Oh, the divorce is amicable enough as the two share custody, but what woman who truly loves her husband can deal with such a blow?
Working mother, Merilee is a relative newcomer to Sweet Apple, and lucky enough to rent the small home on the property of Sweet Apple’s much beloved and much feared Matriarch, eighty-something Sugar Prescott. The home was once Sugar’s honeymoon/marital cottage during WWII and holds a lot of memories for the woman.
Most people are intimidated by Sugar. Likewise, Sugar keeps most people at arms length. But something about Merilee reminds Sugar of herself as a younger woman, and the two slowly become friends and allies.
Merilee’s children start the new school year at an upper-crust private school to avoid all that nasty public school gossip about the math teacher’s extra-curricular activities.
Of course, when you start trying to Keep Up with the Joneses, it’s entirely possible to get run over by a luxury urban-assault SUV.
After all, in a small, southern town, secrets are practically currency, and treachery smiles in one’s face.
So when a gossipy, anonymous blog starts dishing on Merilee and the rumors that swirl around her, Sugar isn’t terribly surprised, but Merilee is horrified. Especially when she learns that even her fourth grade daughter Lilly and her new friends are talking about it.
And so, Sugar comforts distraught Merilee with stories of her own secrets that Sugar had long buried in the past.
This is a story of an unlikely but lovely friendship between women who are in the July and Decembers of their lives. It’s also a mystery centered around revenge. There are two hunky men featured in the story who will stir the reader’s hope for a romantic outcome.
I liked this book, but I didn’t love this book. I found that I was able to figure out the mystery a bit too easily. I knew who the culprit was, what the culprit was up to, why, and how it would be accomplished.
Merilee, as a heroine, was a bit too naive for my taste as well. There were times I wanted to smack the woman and tell her to get a backbone. I like a plucky heroine who snaps out of her rose-colored fog and puts on her big girl panties when the chips are down.
Don’t get me wrong. Merilee was a kick-ass mom. She was structured and strict despite the fact she couldn’t seem to figure out how to feed her children short of ordering pizza. I just felt she vacillated too much between kick-assedness with her children and her total doormat-persona with everyone else.
I’m not sure a woman who lost her husband to a young school teacher would be so willing to see the best in everybody…especially someone who makes Rachel McAdams’ role as Queen-Bee Mean-Girl Regina George look like a sweet Betty White character like Sue Ann Nivens or Rose Nylund.
Some plot elements were a bit too contrived as well. Even Sugar says to Merilee later in the book, words to the effect of, “It’s just too wildly coincidental.”
BUT, I really loved Sugar. Now she was plucky.
And I loved the stories she wove about her younger life as the relationship developed between the matriarch and her tenant.
For this reason, I think this book is worth the read. White tells a sweet story, even when it is full of dirty secrets.