A truly original plot? Characters that you haven’t quite met before, but still somehow recognize? Hilarity that dissipates unexpectedly into heart-rippling sadness? All so rare, all found within the pages of Kevin Wilson’s wonderful new book, Nothing to See Here.
Lillian and Madison meet at an elite boarding school in the Tennessee mountains, roommates who share a common sense of weirdness that is never quite explained, but always felt. When the wealthy, beautiful Madison gets in trouble, plain, poor Lillian takes the fall for the friend she loves and in exchange for $10,000, agrees to be expelled from school in Madison’s place.
Back in her old, lonely life with her single mother and unrealized potential, Lillian works a menial job for years until Madison, now married to a Tennessee politician, invites her to visit and offers her an opportunity inflected with fire and magic. Madison’s husband’s first wife has died and left twins who catch on fire when they are upset, and in order to secure her husband’s political future, Madison needs Lillian to mind the fire-twins. Bessie and Roland, the twins, are on the one hand like comic book kids with superpowers and on the other, no different from all children who have to learn to control their emotions in order to survive.
Out of unrequited love for Madison as well as boredom and her own emptiness, Lillian agrees to the job. Not a nanny, not a governess, not a mother but something inclusive of all three, Lillian finds herself doing a not bad job of raising two children who just need love and care. She reads to them, teaches them about Dolly Parton and meditation, and throws them in the pool when they begin to burn – at least at first. Ultimately, her greatest act of parenting may be her realization that what she really needs to do is let them burn, knowing that they will know when they should stop.
Nothing to See Here is strange, funny, and deeply touching at times as Wilson explores the different kinds of non-blood bonds that can create a feeling of family for those in need of one. I loved the message the novel sends about how unexpected challenges can upend lives and how in the midst of upheaval, what we really need is simply other people to help us keep calm and carry on.