Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"Black Out" by Lisa Unger

Annie Powers would seem like the typical upper middle-class woman, with her husband Grey and daughter Victory (ugh), and pampered lifestyle, except for the fact she can't remember much of her past. When she is followed by a mysterious stranger on the beach outside her home one night, it is the beginning of a strange upheaval in her life. She starts suffering migraines and bits and pieces of her former life begin to return to her. She remembers her life as a teenager, when her mother decides to marry a death-row inmate. This incident brings the inmate's son into their lives, which eventually leads to disaster. Intercut with this are chapters set in the future, where Annie is stuck on a boat, attempting to escape an unknown threat.

The biggest disappointment in "Black Out" is that it could have been so good. As the plot slowly unfolded, I occasionally felt as if I had come across a winner. Unexpected twists, a story that keeps you guessing as to what is really going on, the whole deal. But eventually the twists start becoming a little convoluted...to the point where Unger writes herself into a corner and has no choice but to completely cop out. Events in the last part of the book would seem to totally contradict events that had happened earlier. When a story leaves you unsure as to what did or did not really happen, that's not good writing. It's not good story-telling. I did not come away from "Black Out" feeling satisfied. One option would be to read the whole thing again, knowing the outcome from the beginning, but I don't think there would be much to gain from that. Of course, it's hard to explain my disappointment without ruining the story, so be warned that there is a SPOILER below.

My first SPOILER! Yay!

Final warning: SPOILER AHEAD

Throughout the story, Annie relates the activities of a detective. He initially blackmails her when he discovers that she changed her name, and is using the identity of a dead woman. However, he realises something untoward is going on, and uncovers many unsavoury facts about Annie's husband and his parents, and their possible involvement in what is going on now. At the end, though, he's revealed as nothing more than a figment of her imagination, conjured up whenever she suffered a migraine. This is despite the fact he interacted with other characters, and that Annie supposedly interacted with his wife. Therefore, everything that happened before is thrown into doubt. Did Annie's doctor really get murdered? Did she really locate her believed-to-be-dead lover from her teenage years and finally kill him? What exactly happened on that boat and who killed them all? And how exactly did Annie obtain all the information she needed if the person who discovered it never existed? Dumb, dumb, dumb.

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