September 19, 2020

Two Modern American Fiction Works: “A Friend” and “Nothing To See Here”

When Sigrid Nunez finished “The Friend,” her publisher, Riverhead, decided to print just over 10,000 copies. It was her 8th book and this was a typical print run in the 23 years since she first had her work published. Slam, bam — she wins the National Book Award for this elegant little novel focused on a female writer mourning her mentor who took his own life. He leaves behind an 180-pound Great Dane named Apollo whom our narrator feels impelled to adopt. The nameless author’s life with the dog is the surface story, while underneath is a rumination on writing and the writer’s place in current society.

Nunez tackles dark topics with humor and utterly unique prose. A delicious revelation towards the end of the book will perhaps summon a puzzled smile like it did me.

Plot will not be the main reward in “The Friend,” but writing of the highest caliber. It did not hurt to have a charming dog as a main character either. Hey, whatever gets people to read fiction with a capital F.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
Credit: Harper Collins Publishers

Another slim novel packing a literary wallop is Kevin Wilson’s “Nothing To See Here.” Lilian, a directionless woman living in the attic of her indifferent mother’s home, is asked to care for her old school friend’s two step-children. Magical realism steps in and makes these children literally flammable.

Lilian moves into the guest cottage of her friend Madison’s estate and is tasked with keeping the kids from burning down their home and bursting into flame in public. Their politician father is being considered for Secretary of State and having odd and possibly dangerous children is, shall we say, a career detriment.

Lilian’s unresolved feelings toward Madison and her nascent love for her friend’s damaged step-children is the heart of the novel, but the wacky family situations and acerbic prose will have you laughing out loud when you don’t have a lump in your throat.

“Nothing To See Here” was chosen as a Best Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, People, Entertainment Weekly, USA Today and Time Magazine. This is the book I have been looking for since “Geek Love.”

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