Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

downloadIt’s hard to write books that are genuinely funny, and even harder to do that in a way that is also sad and emotionally resonant. But that is what Wilson has done. One plot turn near the end was so delightful and unexpected that I laughed/gasped out loud when I read it. (Cf. Less).

The premise had the potential to really turn me off: a senator has two children from his first marriage who burst into flames if they get upset. Literally, in the world of this book, they catch fire. They are unharmed, but they burn up their clothing and whatever is around them. Lillian is asked to care for them over a summer because she was, for a year, the boarding-school roommate of the senator’s next wife, and the family wants to keep their condition quiet for political reasons. The “fire children,” as Lillian calls them–Roland and Bessie–are a bit odd, fire aside, but so are Lillian and Madison, the roommate/wife.

All of that is presented with a slightly snarky, ironic tone, and it’s entertaining–but at the same time it’s a brutal takedown of wealth and privilege, and an interrogation of the concept of love. Do we really need it? How does it relate to usefulness? Sacrifice? And what does it mean to truly want something? Not questions routinely associated with comedy–but there’s the genius. You’re thinking about all that without even realizing it was there.

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