Saturday, August 6, 2022


Erin Flanagan’s most recent novel Blackout was a June 2022 Amazon First Reads pick. Her novel Deer Season won the 2022 Edgar for Best First Novel by an American Author and was a finalist for the Midwest Book Awards in Fiction (Literary/Contemporary/Historical). She is also the author of two short story collections–The Usual Mistakes and It’s Not Going to Kill You and Other Stories. She’s held fellowships to Yaddo, MacDowell, The Sewanee Writers’ Conference, The Breadloaf Writers’ Conference, UCross, and The Vermont Studio Center. She contributes regular book reviews to Publishers Weekly and other venues.

Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio with her husband, daughter, two cats and two dogs. She is an English professor at Wright State University and likes all of her colleagues except one.

She applied the Page 69 Test to Blackout and reported the following:
At the opening of Blackout, Maris Heilman is seven hard-won months into her sobriety when she begins having mysterious blackouts. Convinced her husband, Noel, and her daughter, Cody, will think she’s drinking again, she keeps the blackouts a secret.

In chapter nine, Maris is driving to Cody’s school to give a career-day presentation, blacks out, and wakes in an ambulance on the way to the ER. There, the ER doctor tells Maris her autonomic functions shut down—breathing, heart rate, blood pressure—so it wasn’t just a normal passing out, and this becomes the first clue linking her to a network of women suffering the same fate in her town.

Page 69 is the last page of chapter nine, when Noel, another ER doctor, reveals to Maris he checked her records from the accident to confirm the doctor ordered a tox report. It proves to Maris her worst fear: that he doesn’t believe her when she says she’s not drinking. She says to him, “I can’t believe you didn’t trust me,” and he’s exasperated in return because he’s noticed she’d been forgetful and distracted and secretive, which she knows is from the blackouts.

Noel tells her too how betrayed Cody felt that she didn’t show up at career day. “You were first in the lineup, and when the teacher asked Cody if you were there, she had to say no. She asked before each damn presenter: Is she here yet? Is she here? Until Cody couldn’t even answer but just shook her head to keep from crying.” By the time Cody finds out that her mother was in a car accident and that’s why she couldn’t make it, the doubt has been sown and the rift between them widens.

At the bottom of page 69, Noel tells Maris it will take a few weeks to get the tox results. She knows now that the real issue is that he doesn’t trust or believe her word without facts, so how could she possibly tell him about the blackouts? The chapter ends with the line, “If it took a tox test for him to believe her, they’d already failed.”

I think this is an excellent example of the backbone of the novel. While it’s about the mystery of the blackouts and what is behind them, at its core I think it’s about a woman who struggles with her drinking, her relationships, and her ability to lean on others. Throughout the book she needs to decide how honest she can be with her child and husband, and what kind of leniency she can allow herself to be a screwed-up human like the rest of us.
Visit Erin Flanagan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue