Title: When the Lights Go Out
Author: Mary Kubica
Publisher: Harlequin - Hanover Square Press
Format: Kindle ARC
No. of pages: 384
Published: September 4, 2018
My Rating: 3.5 Stars
A woman is forced to question her own identity in this riveting and emotionally charged thriller by the blockbuster bestselling author of The Good Girl, Mary Kubica
Jessie Sloane is on the path to rebuilding her life after years of caring for her ailing mother. She rents a new apartment and applies for college. But when the college informs her that her social security number has raised a red flag, Jessie discovers a shocking detail that causes her to doubt everything she’s ever known.
Finding herself suddenly at the center of a bizarre mystery, Jessie tumbles down a rabbit hole, which is only exacerbated by grief and a relentless lack of sleep. As days pass and the insomnia worsens, it plays with Jessie’s mind. Her judgment is blurred, her thoughts are hampered by fatigue. Jessie begins to see things until she can no longer tell the difference between what’s real and what she’s only imagined.
Meanwhile, twenty years earlier and two hundred and fifty miles away, another woman’s split-second decision may hold the key to Jessie’s secret past. Has Jessie’s whole life been a lie or have her delusions gotten the best of her?
When we open the pages of this chilling tale, we read that Jessie Sloane is sitting with her dying mother. She is not sleeping and is suffering from sleep deprivation. This has become debilitating to her. She is now seeing and hearing things. In the process of trying to apply to college, she discovers several disconcerting things: she had no social security number, identification or even a birth certificate.
The story shifts to a woman named Eden set twenty years earlier. She is a happy young wife and she and her husband have moved into a new home. Although having only been married for a couple of years, Eden wants a child more than she ever could have imagined. This is a pivotal part of the story.
The story quickly shifts back and forth between Jessie’s and Eden’s first-person points of view. It is rather difficult to follow as the timelines seemed rather random. I nearly put the book down more than once, but about 100 pages in, things began to come together.
Because of this, it took me several days to read this book. I simply could not get into the story. I was relieved when I reached the “Aha” moment. I then became eager to know why Jessie had such an uncertain past and did wonder about whatever resolution would come her way. The story definitely was intriguing, as there was so much to learn about both of these women and how they tied together.
This is a book in which the term unreliable narrator really applies. Two in this case. This is because character development in When the Lights Go Out was done quite well. I felt for Jessie while she struggled with the dual battle of her identity and her extreme exhaustion and everything that went along with that. Conversely, the author did a fine job in making me truly dislike Eden. Although there were moments when I did feel very sorry for her, I also felt moments of complete disgust. This was a very nice contrast to experience while reading this book.
The ending, though... I had to read the last several chapters twice. All I can say at this point is that it was odd. It left me scratching my head. I did get the answers that I was seeking while reading this book, but it was delivered just as jumbled as the rest of the story. This is my first read by Mary Kubica. However, due to the intrigue which did manage to hold my attention for a good portion of the story, I would like to give this author another look in a future book.
Many thanks to Harlequin - Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for this ARC to review in exchange for my honest opinion.
PLEASE ENJOY THE FOLLOWING EXCERPT:
The city surrounds me. A panorama. With arms outstretched, I can’t help but spin, taking it all in. Enjoying the view, knowing fully well this may be the last thing my eyes ever see.
I stare at the four metal steps before me, aware of how frail and broken-down they look. They’re orange with rust, paint flaking, some of the slats loose so that when I press my foot to the first step, it buckles beneath me and I fall.
Still, I have no choice but to climb.
I pull myself back up, set my hands on the rails and scale the steps. The sweat bleeds from my palms so that the metal beneath them is slippery, slick. I can’t hold tight. I slip from the second step, try again. I call out, voice cracking, a voice that doesn’t sound like mine.
As I reach the roof’s ledge, my knees give. It takes everything I have not to topple over the edge of the building and onto the street below. Seventeen floors.
I’m so high I could touch the clouds, I think. The sense of vertigo is overpowering. The ground whooshes up and at me, the skyscrapers, the trees starting to sway until I no longer know what’s moving: them or me. Little yellow matchbooks soar up and down the city streets. Cabs.
If I was standing at street level, the ledge would feel plenty wide. But up here it’s not. Up here it’s a thread and on it, I’m trying to balance my two wobbly feet.
I’m scared. But I’ve come this far. I can’t go back.
There’s a moment of calm that comes and goes so quickly I almost don’t notice it. For one split second the world is still. I’m at peace. The sun moves higher and higher into the sky, yellow-orange glaring at me through the buildings, making me peaceful and warm. My hands rise beside me as a bird goes soaring by. As if my hands are wings, I think in that moment what it would be like to fly.
And then it comes rushing back to me.
I’m hopelessly alone. Everything hurts. I can no longer think straight, I can no longer see straight, I can no longer speak. I don’t know who I am anymore. If I am anyone.
And I know in that moment for certain: I am no one.
I think what it would feel like to fall. The weightlessness of the plunge, of gravity taking over, of relinquishing control. Giving up, surrendering to the universe.
There’s a flicker of movement beneath me. A flash of brown, and I know that if I wait any longer, it will be too late. The decision will no longer be mine. I cry out one more time.
And then I go.
I don’t have to see myself to know what I look like.
My eyes are fat and bloated, so bloodshot the sclera is bereft of white. The skin around them is red and raw from rubbing. They’ve been like this for days. Ever since Mom’s body began shutting down, her hands and feet cold, blood no longer circulating there. Since she began to drift in and out of consciousness, refusing to eat. Since she became delirious, speaking of things that aren’t real.
Over the last few days, her breathing has changed too, becoming noisier and unstable, developing what the doctor called Cheyne-Stokes respiration where, for many seconds at a time, she didn’t breathe. Short, shallow breaths followed by no breaths at all. When she didn’t breathe, I didn’t breathe. Her nails are blue now, the skin of her arms and legs blotchy and gray. “It’s a sign of imminent death,” the doctor said only yesterday as he set a firm hand on my shoulder and asked if there was someone they could call, someone who could come sit with me until she passed.
“It won’t be long now,” he’d said.
I had shaken my head, refusing to cry. It wasn’t like me to cry. I’ve sat in the same armchair for nearly a week now, in the same rumpled clothes, leaving only to collect coffee from the hospital cafeteria. “There’s no one,” I said to the doctor.
“It’s only Mom and me.”
Only Mom and me as it’s always been. If I have a father somewhere out there in the world, I don’t know a thing about him. Mom didn’t want me to know anything about him.
And now this evening, Mom’s doctor stands before me again, taking in my bloated eyes, staring at me in concern. This time offering up a pill. He tells me to take it, to go lie down in the empty bed beside Mom’s and sleep.
“When’s the last time you’ve slept, Jessie?” he asks, standing there in his starch white smock, tacking on, “I mean, really slept,” before I can lie. Before I can claim that I slept last night. Because I did, for a whole thirty minutes at best.
He tells me the longest anyone has gone without sleep. He tells me that people can die without sleep. He says to me, “Sleep deprivation is a serious matter. You need to sleep,” though he’s not my doctor but Mom’s. I don’t know why he cares.
But for whatever reason, he goes on to list for me the consequences of not sleeping. Emotional instability. Crying and laughing for no sound reason at all. Behaving erratically. Losing concept of time. Seeing things. Hallucinating. Losing the ability to speak.
And then there are the physical effects of insomnia. Heart attack, hypothermia, stroke.
“Sleeping pills don’t work for me,” I tell him, but he shakes his head, tells me that it’s not a sleeping pill. Rather a tranquilizer of some sort, used for anxiety and seizures. “It has a sedative effect,” he says. “Calming. It will help you sleep without all the ugly side effects of a sleeping pill.”
But I don’t need to sleep. What I need instead is to stay awake, to be with Mom until she makes the decision to leave.
I push myself from my chair, strut past the doctor standing in the doorway. “Jessie,” he says, a hand falling gently to my arm to try and stop me before I can go. His smile is fake.
“I don’t need a pill,” I tell him briskly, plucking my arm away. My eyes catch sight of the nurse standing in the hallway beside the nurse’s station, her eyes conveying only one thing. Pity. “What I need is coffee,” I say, not meeting her eye as I slog down the hallway, feet heavy with fatigue.