Nothing to See Here (Wilson)

Nothing to See Here 
Kevin Wilson, 2019
272 pp.

From the author of The Family Fang, a moving and uproarious novel about a woman who finds meaning in her life when she begins caring for two children with a remarkable ability.

Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since.

Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help.

Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way.

Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth.

Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband.

Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for?

With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Winchester, Tennessee, USA
Education—B.A., Vanderbilt University; M.F.A., University of Florida
Awards—Shirley Jackson Award
Currently—lives in Swanee, Tennessee

Kevin Wilson is the author of the novels Family Fang (2011) and Perfect Little World (2017). His short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009), received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Wilson's fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, A Public Space, and elsewhere, and has appeared in four volumes of the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology as well as The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012.  He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Rivendell, and the KHN Center for the Arts.

Born and raised in Tennessee, Wilson now lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his sons, Griff and Patch. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Sewanee: The University of the South. (Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reviews
It’s a giddily lunatic premise, one that author Kevin Wilson grounds with humor and deadpan matter-of-factness.… Wilson’s observational humor is riotous in its specificity.… The writing dazzles.… But what dazzles most are the warmly rendered dynamics of an ad hoc, dysfunctional family that desperately wants to work.
USA Today

Darkly funny yet quietly devastating.… Wilson crafts a stunning portrait of the push and pull of parenthood.

A peculiar, entertaining and insightful book about the hazards of child-rearing and the value of friends.

Winningly bizarre.
Vanity Fair

Wilson turns a bizarre premise into a beguiling novel about unexpected motherhood.… Lillian’s deadpan observations zip from funny to heartbreaking…. Wilson captures the wrenching emotions of caring for children in this exceptional, and exceptionally hilarious, novel.
Publishers Weekly

Wilson is a remarkable writer…. One of his greatest strengths is the ability to craft an everyday family drama and inject it with one odd element that turns the story on its head. He's done it again here…. A funny and touching fable about love for kids.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. The twins in Nothing to See Here spontaneously combust when they get agitated. The fire they generate can burn others, but leaves them unharmed. What might the nature of this condition represent? Did your perception of the condition change at all throughout the book? Did you become more used to it? Less?

2. This novel offers a unique perspective on the complexities of love and what it means to look beyond a person’s differences. What sort of preconceived notions does Lillian bring to this job? How do Bessie and Roland challenge those notions?

3. Lillian works hard to establish and maintain a bond with the twins. What is it about Lillian that makes her uniquely equipped for this job? Why is she able to connect with them while others have failed?

4. Throughout the book, many characters look for ways to control or cure the twins' condition. Think about the variety of methods put forward. What did you think of each method? What might the methods suggested reveal about each person who suggested them?

5. At the end of chapter three, Lillian expresses surprise that the children’s hair remains unsinged after they burst into flames:

I don’t know why, with these demon children bursting into flames right in front of me, their bad haircuts remaining intact was the magic that fully amazed me, but that’s how it works, I think. The big thing is so ridiculous that you absorb only the smaller miracles.

Do you relate to this sentiment? What other “smaller miracles” are present in the story?

6. The novel offers examples of how class dynamics can shape an individual's experience: Lillian and Madison’s differing experiences at their elite high school, for instance, or Lillian’s early days as an employee on the Roberts estate alongside Carl and Mary. How does wealth and privilege shape the story? Which characters most feel the impact of this?

7. How does Lillian’s dark sense of humor amplify the book’s themes of love, acceptance, and parenting? Did you enjoy the use of humor throughout the novel? What did it tell you about Lillian’s character?

8. Lillian makes a big life change at the end of the novel. What did you think about her journey from Madison’s high school roommate to eventual caretaker to her step-kids? What do you think she ultimately saw in Roland and Bessie that led her to make such a change?

9. Madison and Lillian have a complicated relationship that veers from deep affection to intense rivalry to bitter resentment to uneasy allies. Do you think they’re foils for one another or something else? How does their competitive edge play into their relationship? And do you think their relationship will live on after the events of the novel?

10. Nothing to See Here explores different representations of family structure and dynamic. How do the family units presented at the beginning of the book evolve and change? What does Lillian value in family? Which characters share those values, and which characters differ?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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