Saturday, March 28, 2020

Reading Kevin Wilson – Something to See Here

Kevin Wilson has written five books, of which I have read three recently.

The Family Fang (2011)
Nothing to See Here (2019)
Perfect Little World (2017)

My first exposure to Kevin Wilson was The Family Fang, which tells of a very strange family, indeed. Mom and dad are performance artists, and their kids are the stars of the show. Their “pieces” usually include putting the kids into really awkward, sometimes dangerous, situations and seeing how unwitting bystanders react. As you can imagine, these kids grow up with a lot of baggage. 

Annie (known in her parents’ work as “Child A”) uses her childhood training to become a successful actress. Buster (“Child B”) turns his weird childhood into writing. When both adult children encounter a low point in their careers, they return home – and soon after, mom and dad go missing.
Are they really dead, as the police believe? Or is this just another one of their stunts? Annie and Buster partner up to find out. I basically read this whole book with wide eyes and dropped jaw, waiting to see what would happen next. I doubt you’ll see the final resolution coming, so just wait for it.

Nothing to See Here is not exactly a sequel but more like a spin-off of The Family Fang. Remember how Annie Fang channeled her childhood suffering into an acting career? Nothing to See Here is the story of one of the films she stars in. 

Lillian is an overachiever turned loser. Despite her impoverished childhood, she earns a scholarship to a fancy boarding school, where she meets Madison, the ultimate rich daddy’s girl. When Madison is caught with cocaine, Madison’s daddy offers Lillian’s mom a lot of money for Lillian to take the fall. Lillian is kicked out, and that’s pretty much the end of her ambitions.

And now Madison’s in trouble again. Her rich senator husband’s ex-wife has died, leaving him in charge of his two children by that first marriage. Who catch fire. Yes, you read that right: the senator’s children catch fire. It doesn’t hurt them, but boy, is it inconvenient. So Madison calls on Lillian to come take care of these two little firebrands – and keep them out of sight – while their senator daddy is being vetted for Secretary of State.

The greatest strength of The Family Fang and Nothing to See Here is the outrageous premise, and the growth that comes out of these horrible situations. However, they also both share some really weak characters. In both novels, the parents (Mr. and Mrs. Fang, Madison and her senator hubby) are two-dimensional bad guys. I just hated them all, because they had no redeeming qualities and showed no growth.

Perfect Little World, however, I found to be a lot more complex. It does have a two-dimensional bad guy, but she plays a much smaller role. Perfect Little World also begins with another outrageous premise to do with parenting: a social scientist and a wealthy businesswoman team up to create a utopian commune for raising children cooperatively. Single mom Izzy joins up. She’s the analog to Lillian in Nothing to See Here: a weird young woman thrust into taking care of weird children in a weird situation, and pulling it off. Perhaps due to the larger cast – the other parents and their children – this novel is more nuanced. We see the inevitable adult drama (and cheating) that would occur in such an experiment. We see kids forming unexpected alliances. Though some of the characters simply never get developed, I see the interactions between them as more realistic and relatable.  

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