A few years ago, I read Kevin Wilson’s Nothing to See Here despite my reluctance at the prospect of children spontaneously combusting. It ended up on my books of the year list. Last year’s short story collection, Tunneling to the Centre of the Earth, also impressed me so I jumped at the chance to read Now Is Not the Time to Panic in which two teenage misfits spend the summer creating and disseminating an artwork which has dramatic effects on their small Tennessee town, reverberating across the world.
The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us
One morning in 2017, Frankie answers the phone to a journalist who plans to unmask her to the world, revealing her part in a piece of art she cocreated in 1996, aged sixteen. Frankie is a writer, the author of a successful children’s crime series. She’s settled into married life with a young daughter but has never forgotten the summer she met Zeke, a fellow misfit whose mother had left his adulterous father, common ground with Frankie who’d resigned herself to a lonely few months finishing her novel. The two of them put together a poster bearing Frankie’s strange slogan illustrated by Zeke’s disconcerting drawings. Soon, they’ve posted their work all over Coalfield whose population is agog, some infuriated, others thrilled and eager to get in on the act. Things take a dark turn when a vigilante group is set up after two teenagers cover the tracks of their misbehaviour by claiming they were abducted by a cult responsible for the posters. Newspapers write pieces about the phenomenon, posters pop up all over the States, then in different parts of the world. The summer ends with Frankie and Zeke estranged. When Mazzy Brower calls, Frankie begins to understand that she wants the world to know the secret she’s revealed to only one person but first she must find Zeke.
I want to make something that everyone in the world will see. And they’ll remember it. And they won’t totally understand it.
Wilson specialises in portraying characters a little outside the mainstream. Frankie is the sixteen-year-old left behind by her peers, awkward around the idea of sex, losing herself in writing, living in a household dominated by her ‘feral’ triplet brothers; Zeke longs to go back home to Memphis, is given to outbursts of temper and feels out of step with small town life wanting only to create art. The intensity of their relationship and their obsession with their artwork is vividly captured, an obsession that Frankie never quite shrugs off. Wilson brilliantly portrays the way in which panic spreads, even before the turbocharge of the internet, delivering his story with a humour which turns a little dark at times. An immersive, idiosyncratic and thoroughly enjoyable novel which leaves me hoping for another from him in a year or so.
Text Publishing: London 9781911231424 256 pages Paperback (Read via NetGalley)