It is 1998 and Lillian still receives four or five letters a year from her friend Madison instead of texts on a phone. Lillian and Madison were roommates at boarding school and became as close as sisters.
Over the years, although still receiving the regular letters, they had slowly grown further and further apart. Lillian does not even have Madison’s phone number. Their tenuous connection only exists in the form of the letters. Madison is now married to a Senator.
Lillian’s life could not be more different. She is working two cashier jobs, living in the attic of her mother’s house, where she smokes weed and the she lives this life because of Madison and her father. While at boarding school Madison was caught with coke in her room, not the kind you drink. Madison’s father convinced Lillian’s mother, with ten thousand dollars, to let Lillian take the blame and Lillian was expelled. Same old story the world over, poor kid takes the fall for the rich kid.
Lillian is confused because this letter has arrived out of the natural sequence that had evolved over the years. When she opens it, she is surprised to find that Madison wants her to come to Franklin, where she lives with her husband. Madison informs her that she has a job opportunity for her. Lillian, who remember, is working two dead end jobs, living in her Mother’s attic, of course jumps at this mysterious offer.
Lillian finds out that she is to become a nanny or governess to the twins of Madison’s Husband’s first wife. The twins, Bessie and Roland, both ten years old, both a little wild, both anti-social, and both able to spontaneously combust. Yes indeed, both twins can, usually when angered, burst into flame without being harmed in any way whatsoever.
The narrative is that Madison’s Husband has a very good chance of becoming the next Secretary of State. He does not want the press, which will then lead to the public, finding out about his children who burst into flames.
The heart of the story is about the relationship between Lillian and the twins. Both are lost in the world, and salvation for them both may come in the form of this relationship. And this relationship is the strength of the novel. Wilson manages to make you fall in love with Bessie and Roland, the plight they are in, and their loneliness and struggle to live a normal life. For ten years nobody has ever shown them any love. Now, along comes Lillian, another endearing character that you will find yourself cheering for. The archetypical underdog.
Yes, for me, the whole book revolved around these three characters, and the rest seemed to fade away, which I believe is Wilson’s intention. Great read. 4 stars!
Kevin Wilson was born, raised, and still lives in Tennessee. His writing has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Greensboro Review, The Oxford American, Carolina Quarterly and elsewhere. His work has twice been included in the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology (2005, 2006). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. A graduate of the MFA program at the University of Florida, he currently teaches fiction at the University of the South and helps run the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.
There is a great podcast of Kevin talking about "Nothing to See Here" and his other novels here - https://soundcloud.com/librarylovefest/live-from-ala-kevin-wilson-author-of-nothing-to-see-here