Spontaneous Combustion During a Pandemic

Until recently, I hadn’t finished a book since February. Honestly, I hadn’t even gotten through more than two pages in a book. Something about “these uncertain times” and endless doom scrolling seriously screwed up my ability to concentrate on anything, much less a story that had no impact on my daily life. Once the library opened back up to browsing, I eventually found myself wandering toward my old fave - the Fiction Loop -  but my hopes were not high. I think it was this combination of admittedly low expectations for myself and, maybe, like, the sunshine or something… something called me to pick up Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson all the way at the very end of the general fiction section. My friend Polli told me about this book when it came out last year, but all I could remember was that kids spontaneously combusted in it. I thought, “Sure, this sounds normal for right now” and opened it when I got home. Again, I really cannot overemphasize just how little I expected to be able to read this or any other book. And yet! AND YET. I read half of it that night and finished it the next day. It was interesting without being too heavy or complicated and introspective enough to keep me engaged in the narrator (without being too heavy or complicated). It was funny and charming but not cheesy. The pace was fast, it kept me turning the pages, and - like magic - I completed a freaking BOOK. 

Nothing to See Here is the story of Lillian, a woman in Tennessee who leaves a lackluster life to be a sort-of “secret nanny” to two children. The kids belong to a wealthy, rising politician and are hidden away from public view… because they catch on fire. They get agitated or emotional or overwhelmed, and then their skin starts to redden and - POOF - flames, all over. The children themselves are magically unharmed, but anything they touch catches on fire, which makes normal nannying duties (clothing the kids, keeping their surroundings safe, etc.) a little trickier. What I love about Lillian, and what really kept me reading, was her attitude. She was used to getting the crap end of the stick in life and treats this situation as just another weird life...thing. She worries and fears for the kids, sure, but she also decides… OK, this is what’s happening, so I am going to deal with it as best as I can. She hilariously teaches the kids yoga to calm them down, she slathers them with inflammable goo, and she just loves them, damn it, because that’s all there is to do. 

I learned afterward that Kevin Wilson wrote that book in the span of only TEN days. I know some writers and wannabe writers might scoff at that, but I want to thank his brain profusely for spewing out a totally weird novel that could cut right through my book slump. Wilson said, “This book was alive in my head and I knew what I wanted it to be,” and I think that alive-ness transferred through the pages and into my own head. He took a bizarre concept and showed how people tried to live with it, tried to have some semblance of normalcy, and that was exactly what I needed in “these uncertain times.” Kevin Wilson, you are officially my pandemic buddy for life.

-Kate Gramlich is an Information Services Assistant at Lawrence Public Library.

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