When the Lights Go Out
Most people wouldn’t call me an optimist, but I suppose you might think of me that way if you pay attention to some of my book choices. I absolutely adored Mary Kubica’s second novel, Pretty Baby, but was bitterly disappointed in her two subsequent books, and yet, I continue to eagerly anticipate the author’s new releases in hopes she’ll write something as fantastic as Pretty Baby. With When the Lights Go Out, her latest offering, she comes pretty darned close, but the story isn’t without its flaws.
Jessie Sloane isn’t sure where her life is going. Her mother has been gravely ill for years, and Jessie has been her caretaker. Now though, her mother is nearing the end of her life, and Jessie is feeling understandably adrift.
When Mrs. Sloan succumbs to her illness, Jessie struggles to cope. She decides to apply to college, since she’d put her education on hold to care for her mother, but during the application process, Jessie discovers that her mother might have been keeping some very dark secrets. It seems that Jessie’s name and social security number are registered to someone else, someone who happens to be dead.
Suddenly, everything Jessie thought she knew about herself and her mother is called into question, and she grows increasingly desperate to uncover the truth. Unfortunately, grief is wreaking havoc with her mind. She hasn’t slept in days, her appetite is almost non-existent, and before too long, Jessie begins to question what is real and what is a product of her rapidly deteriorating mind.
As Jessie struggles to separate fact from fiction, she starts learning about a woman who, twenty years earlier and 250 miles away, was having a difficult time sorting her own life out. I can’t say too much about this particular plotline without completely spoiling the book for you, but I will tell you I was utterly captivated by it. Jessie’s connection to this stranger might seem completely obvious at first, but trust me when I say it really isn’t. Ms. Kubica did a fabulous job keeping me guessing, even when I was sure I’d figured everything out.
One of the things that struck me the most about this book was the utterly masterful way the author deals with the fracturing mind of our heroine. Jessie’s fear and confusion are almost palpable, and I felt those things right along with her. I was very much aware of the irrational nature of some of Jessie’s thoughts, but I was also able to understand how she came up with them, and there were a few times when I questioned my own perceptions, thinking Jessie might be right after all. A lot of books attempt to tread the fine line between reality and delusion, but none have managed it with the authenticity of this one.
So, I bet you’re wondering why I haven’t given this book a higher grade. I was fully prepared to add it to my list of DIKs, but then, I reached the big reveal, and that changed everything. I’m obviously not going to tell you how things turned out, but the twist the plot took blew my mind – and not in a completely positive way. I can’t quite decide if it’s an absolute stroke of genius or a total cop out. Maybe it falls somewhere in the middle. It was definitely not what I was expecting, and yet I came away from the novel feeling somewhat dissatisfied.
Still, I can’t completely discount When The Lights Go Out, because any story that stirs up such conflicted feelings in me is obviously doing something right. The characters are incredibly well-drawn, and I hated to put the book down, and even though the ending didn’t work so well for me, but I was entranced by the rest of the story. It’s a hard book to talk about, but I still think it’s very much worth reading and discussing.