Monday 17 February 2020

Nothing to See Here | Kevin Wilson #USfiction

Nothing to See Here made nine of the 'best of' lists as compiled by Kate at the end of 2019, with comments like 'laughed so hard', 'a most unusual story of parental love' and 'hilarious' leaping out at me everywhere I looked.

I was expecting a belly laugh or two, at least. But no. It was way too sad for that. Even though the story was told with a tender, light touch, and some of Wilson's phrasing and imagery was amusing, I couldn't bring myself to laugh at the plight of any of these loveless characters, all so desperate to find someone to love them and care for them properly.

From the Senator, who had the emotional life of a gnat, and ran for office simply because of family tradition, to Carl the body guard, who just did what he was told. Madison and Lillian, the best friends from high school, from vastly different backgrounds, but both with equally shitty parents. To the poor, poor ten year old twins, who could burst into flames when angry or upset, but not be harmed, who watched their mother kill herself and then got stuck living with their crappy grandparents, until their father, the Senator, finally brought them home.

But not really home. A house on the family estate that has been converted to withstand fire and be very private, where they could be looked after by Lillian discreetly, away from the public eye.

In some ways this is a story about parental love. Lillian's growing love for the twins gives her life meaning and purpose. Her own dysfunctional upbringing allows her to empathise with the twins, and once the bond is formed, makes her determined to turn things around for them. The twins, in turn, trust her because of her vulnerability. They can sense her desire to protect them (in a way she was not protected) against all odds. Madison has a similar relationship going on with her own young son, Timothy. Determined to do better than her own upbringing, but also determined to get ahead with a career and life of her own. She is able to spin a story at the drop of a hat, a valuable asset for a politician's wife!

As much as I enjoyed this book, and was utterly engaged in the story from start to finish, there was nothing hilarious about this level of human damage. There is humour in the set-up and the satirical gaze at politics, privilege and power. It's also amazing how quickly you accept that children can self-combust.

Nothing to See Here is an unforgettable book. It was the perfect choice for a mini-break weekend away. Mr Books and I can both recommend it; just don't expect to laugh.


  1. Strange. I will pass on this.

    1. It is indeed curious Silvia.

      I've been rummaging around on the interweb to see if I could find any answers. Wilson obviously has a thing for the damage a family can do to each other, as all his books have this theme. And an interesting review on Lit Hub talked about his writing, or thinking processes:
      "I rarely write. I’m mostly inside of my head when I’m figuring out stories, so I don’t sit down and write all that much. I like keeping it inside my head, away from the page, so it can sit in my brain and get weirder as I hold onto it."
      He's deliberately aiming for weird.

  2. I somehow missed all the hype about this book, including the idea that it was funny. But I'm really glad I didn't miss the book itself because I thought it was incredibly sweet. I liked the light touch in the midst of all the horror (but, like you, I didn't have any belly laughs), and I really appreciate seeing how caring for others enabled Lillian to care for herself.

    1. Yes, that's the relationship triangle I liked best too. I finished the book really hoping that Lillian and the twins could be together to make each other whole again. The potential was there.

      Since writing the post, I've been reading some more about Wilson, trying to work if he is as damaged as his characters. It's too hard to tell from various interviews, but he did say in an interview on The Millions:
      "Raising a regular kid is pretty similar to caring for a child who might, at any time, burst into flames. Children are combustible. They’re mysterious in wonderful and also scary ways. I know, in my heart, that I’m a decent parent. I know that my children are wonderful. But I feel some guilt that in those early years, I sometimes was afraid of not only what I might do to them, mess them up in some profound way, but also of what they might do to me, how I might crumble under the weight of their need.

      I think parenting, even when you put your whole heart into it, is fraught with anxiety, the worry that you’re making a person and hoping they survive. There are times when I feel like I’m not capable of caring for another person, that I’m not strong enough to do that. But I have to find a way to do it. And I think writing about that anxiety, working through it on the page, helps me deal with it in the real world."


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