Tour Stop & Excerpt #4: When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

Title: When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica
Publisher: Park Row
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 336 pages


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?

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Excerpt #4

“I’m not tired yet,” I confess to the nurse after a few minutes, sure this is a waste of time. I can’t sleep. I won’t sleep. The restlessness of my legs is persistent, until I have no choice but to dig the melatonin out of my pocket when the nurse turns her back, and swallow those too.

The hospital bed is pitted, the blankets abrasive. I’m cold. Beside me, Mom’s breathing is dry and uneven, her mouth gaping open like a robin hatchling. Scabs have formed around her lips. She jerks and twitches in her sleep. “What’s happening?” I ask the nurse, and she tells me Mom is dreaming.

“Bad dreams?” I ask, worried that nightmares might torment her sleep.

“I can’t say for sure,” the nurse says. She repositions Mom on her right side, tucking a rolled up blanket beneath her hip, checking the color of her hands and feet. “No one even knows for sure why we dream,” the nurse tells me, adding an extra blanket to my bed in case I catch a draft in my sleep. “Did you know that?” she asks but I shake my head and tell her no. “Some people think that dreams serve no purpose,” she adds, winking. “But I think they do. They’re the mind’s way of coping, of thinking through a problem. Things we saw, felt, heard. What we’re worried about. What we want to achieve. You want to know what I think?” she asks, and without waiting for me to answer, she says, “I think your mom is getting ready to go in that dream of hers. Packing her bags and saying goodbye. Finding her purse and her keys.”

I can’t remember the last time I’d dreamed.

“It can take up to an hour to kick in,” the nurse says and this time I know she means the medicine.

The nurse catches me staring at Mom. “You can talk to her, you know?” she asks. “She can hear you,” she says but it’s awkward then. Talking to Mom while the nurse is in the room. And anyway, I’m not convinced that Mom can really hear me, so I say to the nurse, “I know,” but to Mom, I say nothing. I’ll say all the things I need to say if ever we’re alone. The nurses play Mom’s records some of the time because, as they’ve told me, hearing is the last thing to go. The last of the senses to leave. And because they think it might put her at ease, as if the soulful voice of Gladys Knight and the Pips can penetrate the state of unconsciousness where she’s at, and become part of her dreams. The familiar sound of her music, those records I used to hate when I

I was a kid but now know I’ll spend the rest of my life listening to on repeat.

“This must be hard on you,” the nurse says, watching me as I stare mournfully at Mom, taking in the shape of her face, her eyes for what might be the last time. Then she confesses, “I know what it’s like to lose someone you love.” I don’t ask the nurse who, but she tells me anyway, admitting to the little girl she lost nearly two decades ago. Her daughter, only three years old when she died. “We were on vacation,” she says. “My husband and me with our little girl.” He’s her ex-husband now because, as she tells me, their marriage died that day too, same day as their little girl. She tells me how there was nothing Madison loved more than playing in the sand, searching for seashells along the seashore. They’d taken her to the beach that summer. “My last good memories are of the three of us at the beach, seeing Madison in her purple swimsuit, bent at the waist, digging her fat fingers into the sand for seashells.

“I still see her sometimes when I close my eyes. Even after all these years. Bent at the waist in that purple swimsuit, digging for seashells in the sand. Funny thing is that I have a hard time remembering her face, but clear as day I see the ruffles of that purple tulle skirt moving in the air.”

I don’t know what to say. I know I should say something, something empathetic. I should commiserate. But instead I ask, “How did she die?” because I can’t help myself. I want to know, and there’s a part of me convinced she wants me to ask.

“A hit and run,” she admits while dropping into an empty armchair in the corner of the room. Same one that I’ve spent the last few days in. She tells me how the girl wandered into the street when she and her husband weren’t paying attention. It was a four-lane road with a speed limit of just twenty-five as it twisted through the small, seaside town. The driver rounded a bend at nearly twice that speed, not seeing the little girl before he hit her, before he fled.

“He,” she says then. “He.” And this time, she laughs, a jaded laugh. “I’ll never know one way or the other if the driver was male or female, but to me it’s always been he because for the life of me I can’t see a woman running her car into a child and then fleeing. It goes against our every instinct, to nurture, to protect,” she says.

“It’s so easy to blame someone else. My husband, the driver of the car. Even Madison herself. But the truth is that it was my fault. I was the one not paying attention. I was the one who let my little girl waddle off into the middle of the street.”

And then she shakes her head with the weariness of someone who’s replayed the same scene in the life for the last dozen years, trying to pinpoint the moment when it all went wrong. When Madison’s hand slipped from hers, when she fell from view.

I don’t mean for them to, but still, my eyes fill with tears as I picture her little girl in her purple swimsuit, lying in the middle of the road. One minute gathering seashells in the palm of a hand, and the next minute dead. It seems so tragic, so catastrophic that my own tragedy somehow pales in comparison to hers. Suddenly cancer doesn’t seem so bad.

Author Bio

Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of THE GOOD GIRL and PRETTY BABY. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children and enjoys photography, gardening and caring for the animals at a local shelter.

Author Links: Website * Facebook * Twitter * Goodreads * Instagram

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1 Comment

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One Response to Tour Stop & Excerpt #4: When the Lights Go Out by Mary Kubica

  1. Thanks for featuring this excerpt for the tour!