Book review: Karen White’s new novel is a crisp summer drama

Author Karen White
Author Karen White Submitted photo

As summer arrives, so does a new crop of books to read while enjoying — or escaping — the heat. Georgia author Karen White has trained us to expect an annual page-turner drama this time of year, and her latest is another stellar win.

“The Night the Lights Went Out” (Berkley, hardcover, $26) shows off White’s adept method of storytelling in her recent novels, of telling two intertwined stories from two time periods. As in “Flight Patterns” and “A Long Time Gone,” what’s past isn’t always past. White is good at drawing you so deep into the storylines that you are equally invested in each plot, and still surprised when one takes a turn.

White has two relatable lead characters — Sugar and Merilee, two women who are similiar and cautiously leaning on each other. They both live in Sweet Apple, a fictional suburb of Atlanta that was once a small town devoid of SUVs. Sugar is the elderly woman who lives on a street bearing her last name. Merilee is renting the house behind Sugar’s house, both on several acres of land, though smaller than the property Sugar’s family once owned. Sugar lives alone, and is a bit fussy too, grudgingly coming around to Merilee’s presence. Sugar is that older lady at church who tsks-tsks you, but whose approval you seek.

Merilee is newly divorced and goes from being a comfortable stay at home mother of two school-age children to being one of only a few fully employed mothers among parents at a private school. Merliee becomes friends with a wealthy SAHM, Heather, who seems to offer friendship. Seems to, at least. Heather brings the center of attention to herself and her well-funded appearance, but all is not as it seems.

Heather, Sugar and Merliee are all subject to gossip and a local blogger who has amusing insights into life and the lives of Sweet Apple residents. Noting the long line of carpool drivers, the blogger wonders why children are shuttled around rather than just taking the school bus. The mystery blogger also isn’t a fan of the new residents’ driving. The blogger serves as a narrator among the storylines both funny and serious, especially when we learn the tragic back stories of Merliee and Sugar.

What White does so well is toggle between past and present, giving readers two stories in one. She also brings characters to life so well that you would expect to recognize Sugar on the street. Maybe we all have known someone a little like Sugar, or Merliee, or even Heather.

“The Night the Lights Went Out” is a good choice for a summer read because you can immerse yourself in Sweet Apple’s past and present, living there for as long as White tells the story.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan