When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica is one of those edgy thrillers that captivates you from the very first page.
The young protagonist, Jessie Sloane, is living a nightmare when she has to prove her identity to enrol for college after her mother’s death. Her birth ID shows that her name belongs to a girl who died in a road accident years before. Jessie is bewildered and begins to search for clues to who she really is.
This tightly written urban thriller also involves the death by cancer of Jessie’s mother, who never allowed others into their lives. Jessie is exhausted from the bedside vigil and as she is her mother’s only living relative, she bears the brunt of her palliative care. She falls asleep at the hospital and her mother passes away. It is then that her living nightmare begins. The reader is hurled into a nightmare world where chronic insomnia produces delusional, hallucinating behaviour as she desperately seeks to find out who she really is.
Jessie tries to find an apartment to rent, but has no identity papers or bank details, as her mother had always been very secretive about whom her father was. Jessie ends up in a private rental, but finds that she now cannot sleep. She starts to hear noises and see things that don’t exist and hates the long dark nights when the lights go out.
When the Lights Go Out is told by two narrators. There is Jessie who is young, confused and bewildered as she endeavours to find out more about her origins as her insomnia intensifies. The other narrator is Eden whose story is set twenty years prior to Jessie’s timeline and tells the tale of a young couple, Eden and Aaron, who buy an idyllic home in Egg Harbour. Their happiness would be complete if only they could have a child, but month after month Eden miscarries and the marriage threatens to fall apart as the couple find the endless fertility treatments expensive and ultimately useless.
Eden is obsessed with becoming a mother, but the cost is very high to her physically and emotionally, and so she gazes at children from a distance and fantasises about stealing one from another mother. The tension is palpable as the novel builds to a crescendo as both women lose touch with reality, Jessie from grief, the debilitating effects of insomnia and her desperate search to find out who she really is, and Eden a woman also struggling with her own demons.
As the story draws to a riveting close, the truth is revealed in a climax that is so unexpected that I truly never saw it coming. Clever plotting indeed.
When the Lights Go Out is an awesome read. Mary Kubica is a writer who knows how to work the thriller genre to produce excellent results. This thriller is available in printed and digital editions from the publisher, HQ Fiction.