When the Lights Go Out

Image of When the Lights Go Out
Release Date: 
September 4, 2018
Park Row Books
Reviewed by: 

Jessie Sloane's only family is her mother, Eden. Many times she asked questions regarding her father or other relatives, but it appears there is just the two of them. 

Jessie takes on several odd jobs cleaning houses after finishing high school, putting aside plans of starting college when her Eden learns her cancer is back.   This way she he can adjust her time to spend with her ailing mother. She grieves as she watches the one person in her life that she loves and depends on get eaten up by the disease. 

At the hospital, as the end draws near, Jessie finds it hard to remain awake. How long ago has it been since she slept? She does not remember, but she needs to be present for her mother's death. Caffeine keeps her alert and while getting coffee in the cafeteria, she meets a young man, looking as disheveled as she. She sits with him, learning his brother is on life support after being in a serious motorcycle accident. 

The doctor attending Eden worries about Jessie and offers her something to help her sleep, which she refuses. Eden's nurse reads to Jessie, to lull her into much-needed slumber. This works, but to Jessie's dismay, she sleeps through her mom's passing. Now that Eden is gone, Jessie is all alone. 

Back home Jessie tries to find her birth certificate and Social Security card, deciding to finally enroll in school. Not locating these papers she submits her application, giving the number she remembers. She later receives a call stating her credentials are for that of a three-year-old girl who perished in car crash years ago. How could this be? She never needed these forms before for the jobs they both held did not require them as they were household labor. 

Jessie searches ruthlessly for clues about her past. Why didn't she demand her mom tell her things? She discovers a hidden picture of a man staring at a lake, but his back it to her, so she can't see a face. Is this man her dad? She heads to the courthouse to find her records, but there are none. It's like she doesn't exist. Who is she really? Was Eden even her mother? Distraught and dazed, Jessie fills her days (and nights) trying to unravel the puzzle of her life. 

At the park Jessie and Eden used to love, Jessie spies a man reading a newspaper. He resembles the man in the photo. When he leaves, she grabs the paper seeing her mother's obituary facing upward. She chases after him. Can give her some answers? Instead, she runs into the guy she met in the hospital and strikes up a conversation with him, disclosing her current situation. 

Jessie knows she must sell the house she was raised in. She won't live there without Eden. An agent locates an apartment for her in an old carriage house and she moves in with her meager belongings. Days pass as she tries to figure out her state of affairs. She hunts for the man from the park, but cannot find him. Her evenings are sleepless and she hears sounds and voices coming through the heating vent. A glimpse out her window shows a light on in her landlady's third floor and she is sure she is being spied on.

In a daze, Jessie becomes more frustrated. Is she going crazy? What is happening to her? Without sleep, she wonders if the things she sees are hallucinations or reality. She contemplates: 

"What makes not sleeping even worse than the crippling fatigue is the boredom that infiltrates those nighttime hours. The misery. The morbid thoughts that keep me company all night long."

As time progresses, Jessie's insomnia continues. One night, she comes home to her apartment, believing someone is inside. 

"What I see is a man on bent knee, crouched down, waiting to lunge at me as I reach the top of the staircase. 

"I gasp aloud, attempting to brace for impact. But instead, I lose balance, slipping backward on the top step and sliding downward the eight- or nine-inch risers to the step below...

"My heart pounds hard.

"I cling to the banister and realize that no one had lunged at me."

Still, sleeplessness prevails as Jessie remembers hearing about a man who died from lack of sleep:

"The most gruesome part? Though the body goes to pot, the mind does not. Thought processes remain relatively intact. They're clued in completely to their own demise.

"They shrivel to nothing but a glassy-eyed stare, eyes shrunken to mere pinpricks, like mine. And then they die. Because, after those long, agonizing nights, lying in bed, failing to truly sleep, fatal familial insomnia is nothing but a death sentence for them. The Grim Reaper is coming to steal their life.

"I'm waiting for my time."

Jessie's mind plays tricks on her, having her imagine thoughts, such as:

"As I lie here in bed listening to the tick-tock of the wall clock, it dawns on me. Mom is not my biological mom. It seems so transparent, so glaring there in the witching hour...

"If Mom is not my biological mother, then how did I come to be with her? How did I come to think of her as my mom?

Mary Kubica takes the reader on a roller-coaster ride sharing how the human mind deals with insomnia and how it distorts ones thinking. Jessie's first-person voice is so powerful it is like being on this chilling journey with her as she delves into finding the truth. 

Also included in the text are journal notes written by Eden from years ago when she was first married to Aaron, the love or her life. She describes how desperately she yearned for a baby, but couldn't conceive. She mentions the beautiful waterfront home they bought, expecting their dreams to come true, but they were shattered without children. This became an obsession for her to in which thousands of dollars were spent for fertility specialists almost bankrupting them and ruining her marriage to  Aaron, leaving her alone. 

This masterful and provocative novel is a page-turner leading to an unexpected and surprising conclusion.