Karen White writes what she called “grit lit,” a form of chick lit, but with comfort food. The Night the Lights Went Out is her newest book and one that I am certain will be popular. It all begins when Merrilee Talbot Dunlap moves across town after her divorce and enrolls her two children, Lily and Colin, in an elite private school. This move was less about elite education and more about avoiding the third grade teacher whose affair with her husband broke up their family.
She is soon adopted by the most popular and powerful school mother, Heather Blackford, drafted into service on the gala fundraising committee. Heather is a bit of a steamroller and Merrilee, chastened by her divorce, is easily rolled. However, she thinks of Heather as a friend, a bossy friend, but consider how Heather is spoiling her, insisting on buying her a gown for the gala, taking her shoe-shopping, letting her stay at her family’s beachfront home…and sure, there was that mixup that resulted in some folks thinking Merrilee was having an affair with Heather’s husband Dan, but that will blow over.
And then there is her landlady, Sugar Prescott, a bit of steel peach blossom as in Georgia where the lights have gone out before. Sugar is ninety-three and still lives in the home she grew up in. She is renting out the small cottage built for her and her husband when they got married during World War II. She like Merrilee, though she tries to avoid it. She has a hard-hearted reputation to uphold. Nonetheless, she constantly finds herself telling Merrilee stories of her past, stories that build a friendship and stories of her lifelong friendship with Willa Faye.
Place is important to this story. Sweet Apple is an upscale Georgia suburb carved out of what was once all Prescott farmland. There’s a local anonymous blogger who helps newcomers with the proper use of “bless your heart” and other southernisms while writing about the local gossip and scandals, a sort of local Bailey White, but less madcap.
I enjoyed The Night the Lights Went Out even though the suspense part of the plot is all too obvious and Merrilee is all to oblivious. Of course, Merrilee does not have the advantage of knowing she is in a genre novel, so she is running around all unsuspecting that there is some plot afoot. I love the title. The lights actually do go out, though the reference to the song is even more pertinent than some trees knocking down a power line since the police arrest an innocent.
The mystery is not that mysterious and the unlikeliest thing in the book is how slowly Merrilee comes round to realizing that she is being set up. Luckily for her, her friends are not so slow. And it’s friendship, really, that is the heart and soul of this book. The real mystery is that stranger alchemy that makes a friend and how deep and strong those bonds can be. There is a touch of romance with Merrilee and Willa Faye’s grandson Wade, but it’s early stages yet. Romance is not the point, intrigue is not the point, the point of the book is friendship.
It is those stories and that exploration of friendship between Merrilee and Heather, between her and Lindi, another mother at the school, and between her and Sugar that matter. There is also the budding friendship between her daughter Lily and Heather and Lindi’s daughter and how the events with their parents affect them. Then there are the friendships Merrilee develops with the men in the story, Dan and Wade. There are many friendships, all tested, some falter and some flourish. And that bond, the bond of friendship, is at the heart, which makes this a far more interesting story than the mystery does.
The Night the Lights Went Out will be released April 11th. I was provided an Advance Readers Copy from the publisher through a Shelf Awareness drawing.