Nothing to See Here is the most recent book from author, Kevin Wilson, a Tennessee-based author, which is apparent when reading this novel. Nothing to See Here takes place in Tennessee and pays homage to the State, its landscape such as the beautiful Smoky Mountains, and various famous Tennesseans. For example, there’s a delightful discussion about precisely why Dolly Parton is the greatest thing to ever hail from Tennessee, being especially greater than that asshole, Andrew Jackson. Plus, Jackson wasn’t born in Tennessee, so they don’t really have to claim him.
Nothing to See Here follows Lillian, a 28-year-old woman who has found herself in a bit of a rough patch. At one time, she was a star student who had even earned her way into a fancy-pants private school usually reserved for the children of rich kids. Despite having a strange, selfish and uncaring mother, Lillian was well set to better her life and get out of the swamp that was her poverty-stricken life. After an unfortunate incident at the school involving her best friend, Madison, Lillian’s dreams of becoming something great were shattered and she found herself back home, yet another victim of the whims of the rich and powerful who always get what they want. More than a decade later, Lillian is working a dead end job at the Sav-a-Lot when she receives a request from Madison, now the wealthy and stunningly beautiful wife of a high-profile senator, Jasper Roberts *gag*. Madison needs her help with two children, her husband’s children from a former wife, now deceased. Lillian must keep them quiet and out of the limelight so that the Congressman’s political career isn’t tarnished by their dirty little secret: the children have a habit of spontaneously catching fire when they get upset.
Yeah, you heard me. They catch on fire. They spontaneously combust without actually burning to a crisp. Think baby Jack Jack only profoundly less cute and already in an awkward stage, possibly harnessing a desire to rip off your face. Little decade-old balls of burning angst.
Ok, jokes aside, I give Wilson props for a seriously unique plot. There’s really no explanation for scientifically why the children have this affliction. That doesn’t really matter. In reality, I believe this is supposed to be a comedy, but it’s a dark one infused with a not so thinly veiled metaphor. Somewhere beneath the surface of this quirky comedy about spontaneously combusting children is a dark subtext regarding the emotional and psychological trauma experienced by children who are victims of abuse and neglect during the most formative periods of childhood. Bessie and Roland grew up with a strange mother who had weird and twisted ideas of parenting and completely lacked the tools to help them navigate their place in a world unfriendly to their particular unique abilities. Though smart, their educations are seriously lacking, and they are as socially awkward as one would assume. Their father, a positively detestable (i.e., typical) politician was incapable of seeing past his own ambitions to that little thing called responsibility for which those of his ilk gleefully expect the rest of us to adhere.
From another angle, readers see Bessie and Roland as children who are ostracized, hidden from the public, due to their having a physical or mental disability. Not being accepted for who they are merely exacerbates emotional issues. It breeds anger and hostility, but that anger and hostility is usually hiding a deep-seeded pain, the loneliness and despair that comes from rejection by those who were supposed to love them the most no matter the circumstances. It’s not just Bessie and Roland. As the novel progresses, we see that young Timothy, Jasper and Madison’s little boy, is also struggling with inner turmoil that he keeps bottled inside. Children aren’t meant to silence their emotions. No one is meant to do so, in fact, regardless of age.
I grew to love Bessie and Roland, the same way Lillian grew to love them. All three characters were exceptionally well drawn. They were all flawed, as the flaws were an integral part of what made them lovable. Lillian is far from perfect. Her conflicted love for Madison was infuriating, at times. I wanted her to rage against Madison, but then that wouldn’t have made sense. Lillian had to find her own way forward. She had to learn to separate the past from the present and see people and events as they truly were. Sometimes ugliness is nestled below the surface. And sometimes you have to use that uncovered ugliness to your advantage in a way that helps you make your own beauty out of that ugliness moving forward.
There were some delightful peripheral characters in this book. I, honestly, would have liked to have seen more from Carl. I rather liked where his relationship with Lillian and the children seemed to be heading and I saw him as an unlikely advocate for them. Perhaps the way it was portrayed was a little more realistic than my view, but I still found myself a little disappointed there wasn’t a bit more closure in some regard. In short, I really expected this to be a lot funnier than I found it to be, though I don’t necessarily feel that’s a bad thing. Usually I prefer substance and depth over humor, though I appreciate both. I didn’t find anything to be particularly surprising about this book. It was a pleasant read but far from earth-shattering. I found it endearing and thought-provoking and would recommend for someone looking for a light read that still has something to teach the reader. 3 Stars.