Nothing to See Here
“If the reader is willing to delve below the surface, there is something to see in Kevin Wilson’s latest novel.”
“I realized there were delicate waves of yellow flame moving up and down Bessie’s little arms. And then, like a crack of lightning, she burst fully into flames, her body a kind of firework, the fire white and blue and red all at once.”
A favorite assignment in creative writing classes is to ask students to bring together as many disparate elements (characters, situations, locales) as possible and see what happens.
At first blush, this is exactly what Kevin Wilson (The Family Fang; Perfect Little Word; Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine) appears to have done in his latest novel, Nothing to See Here. He mixes a concoction of characters: the narrator, Lillian, a grocer’s assistant; Madison, the wife of wealthy Tennessee Senator Jasper Roberts; the mysterious Carl, assistant to the Roberts; and Bessie and Roland, Jasper’s children from a previous marriage, both of whom have the habit of catching fire at odd moments.
Immediately, we learn that Lillian and Madison met at an exclusive boarding school at which Lillian was a talented scholarship student from a local town and Madison the spoiled daughter of a prominent Atlanta businessman; that the two of them bonded as roommates, friends, and teammates on the basketball team; that Lillian’s mother allowed her daughter take the rap for Madison who’d been busted for drug possession in exchange for $10,000 dollars.
Years later Madison contacts Lillian, asking her to live on her estate as caretaker for two of her stepchildren, which she does, only to discover that the two of them have the unnerving tendency to burst into flames.
If all of this sounds farfetched, it is. That such a storyline can become an entertaining, captivating novel is a credit to the author’s capacity to make his characters interesting and sympathetic enough for the readers to suspend their disbelief for the sake of simply enjoying the experience.
“He had on little round glasses. He looked like Orville Redenbacher, the popcorn guy. He looked insane in that way of people who put great effort into choosing ridiculous clothing. I prayed this was not the doctor.
“‘I’m the doctor!’ he said, waving to the children.”
Lillian, the narrator, is earthy, realistic, and funny. She, like the readers, sees herself in a kind of fairy tale setting, and she straps on her seatbelt and goes along for the ride, taking us with her. Lillian sees what’s happening and it’s as though she says “let’s see what happens,” recounting it all as if it’s a funny dream.
Wilson writes with an easy, conversational style, relying on short, staccato sentences, and the bare minimum of descriptive detail to carry along the narrative, and his use of a female voice feels authentic.
Of course, everything comes too easily for Lillian; she adapts too easily to the life of living on an estate after living in near squalor for all of her life; the two children morph from hating the sight of her to worshiping her within a span of less than 24 hours. In other words, there’s very little of the struggle Jane Eyre experiences when she becomes the governess for Edward Rochester’s daughter, Adele—which is fine because the reader is happy to travel this adventure without expecting great heaviness.
Beneath the light-hearted patois of the novel lurk some serious, if lightly handled, themes: abandonment of children by their parents, the true nature of many politicians, sexual preference ambiguity, how greed and power corrupt. If the reader is willing to delve below the surface, there is something to see in Kevin Wilson’s latest novel.