I thoroughly enjoy and then immediately forget many of the books I read. I don't mean to condemn the authors of those books because I know that writing a book someone can love reading is a huge accomplishment. Sometimes, however, I read books that are so thought-provoking that they stay with me. Kevin Wilson's novel Now is Not the Time to Panic persists.
I don't want to give anything away, so I'll tread lightly on plot by saying that the story opens when a woman gets a phone call about a pivotal summer in her past, a time when she started doing something that she has since kept secret for more than twenty years. The book mostly follows the earlier summer, when she was an awkward sixteen-year-old kid who lived invisibly with her feral, triplet, older brothers and busy, single mother. She and her new friend Zeke create an art project that goes viral before "going viral" is a thing that happened outside of, you know, viruses.
What got to me about this story was the way Wilson shows how what we put into the world is no longer in our control. In the novel, the kids post their words and drawings and then watch as their idea takes on its own life. Remember the afterward to Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club? (Am I allowed to talk about the afterward?) In that section, the author discusses the quilting clubs and baking clubs and all kinds of groups that sprouted and grew from the seeds his novel planted. He crafted ideas, and others ran with them, and they didn't always head in the straight lines he might have anticipated or wanted. That loss-of-directional-control is true of everything we create. And it's a funny thing, of course, that we want what we put out there to have staying power, but we don't always like what that means.
Twenty-five years ago, I was pregnant for the first time. I was lucky to have a healthy, easy pregnancy that ended in the speedy delivery of a person who is now an awesome woman. About seven months into gestation, I had an aha moment. I was lying in bed eager and ready to fall asleep. (Full disclosure, it was probably 8:30pm, but I was tired. Sue me.) While I lay there, this little fetus inside of me was doing somersaults. It–okay, I guess I can say she though I didn't know that at the time and don't think she became herself until later–was decidedly not calming down or getting ready to go to sleep. I remember thinking, "This thing that I have created, even while it's still inside of me, isn't in my control." (Believe me when I say that the above sentence isn't an anti-choice argument.) I couldn't make her sleep any more than I could make pineapples dance the hora. What a face palm moment for this mother-to-be who likes to plan everything. I was slapped in the face with, "Nanny-nanny-foo-foo to your desire to plan!"
The second aspect of this novel that gave me a lot to contemplate was its views on secret-keeping. If I had to guess, I'd say that over time, most people's dirty laundry comes to light. There must be people out there who manage to keep their secrets locked tight, but if you're planning your life, you're probably better off assuming that everyone will dig up everything. Act accordingly. (I wrote a blog post about this suggestion, more or less, called Why to Wear Clean Underwear.)
In this novel, it seems that the kids manage to keep their secret for twenty years, only they don't. I can't explain how they don't without giving away some late-book revelations, but from the first page, we know that someone has found out. The experience of the protagonist is that she has managed to remain anonymous for twenty years, and since we're in her point of view, that's how we feel through the novel as well. And that's a lot. Doing everything it takes to stay off-the-radar for something that blows up takes its toll. The two main characters react in very different ways to the big information they're holding. And their reactions made me think about secret-keeping and big revelations. I wonder if you'll follow the same brain-train if you read the book. Please check it out; then, come back here to share your thoughts.
Before I sign off, I thought I should probably offer the same information I give in my NetGalley reviews, to which some of you subscribe, so that's what follows below.
title: Now is Not the Time to Panic
author: Kevin Wilson
publication date: November 8, 2022
peppers: one pepper (on this scale)
- absent fathers
- mental illness
summary: two awkward kids find each other and create a piece of art that takes on a life of its own.
tropes: (not a trope-heavy book)
- what we do as children stays with us as adults
- families are messy
- we all need friends
what I liked:
- the premise that what we create is no longer in our control. Wilson takes this in fascinating directions and shows how different people react to that powerlessness/power.
- it made me rethink secret-keeping
- character development
- quirky side characters
- dual time lines
- narrative voice
what I didn’t like: not applicable
overall rating: 5 (of 5 stars)