My introduction to Kevin Wilson books came in 2016 when I read The Family Fang. It was different--in a good way. Creative, but very readable. Not that I could tell you a whole lot about the story at this point, seven years later. As it goes, I was still a frequent Goodreader at that point in time. So, quoting old me:
I was in the mood for something different and I certainly found it here. The Fangs are a messed up family, led by crazy parents whose idea of art can most kindly be referred to as mischief. It's best when it involves innocent victims of some kind and must occur in a very public place. They refer to their children as A and B (though they do at least have names, Annie and Buster) and after initially fearing children would interfere with their "art" they learned to incorporate them into the act.
Naturally, Annie and Buster grow up with issues. She becomes a semi-successful actress and he cranks out a pair of novels before winding up scraping by on free lance magazine work. For different reasons, they both wind up moving back home after escaping, and soon find themselves right back in the midst of the Fang turmoil.
Midway through I felt like this was a strong 4 1/2 stars, possibly a 5. It was one of those books where I was already thinking of people I could recommend it to. Then things slowed a little and the ending sort of underwhelmed me. I'll give the benefit of the doubt and round up to a 4, based on the uniqueness of the story and the characters, but there could have been more here.
And I guess at that point I was just lukewarm enough (lukecold?) on the ending to not bother going back into the Wilson pile for more.
Fast-forward to 2019-20, when I was running some steady Amazon ads for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, and who should start popping into my Also-Boughts but Kevin Wilson. When I first started with the ads, Jonathan Tropper was the gold-standard search target for me. It's a family drama with a bit of humor, which is Tropper's wheelhouse, so that made sense. The Venn diagram for Wilson never seemed quite as overlappy to me. But it persisted, and over time his name became a more productive search term than Tropper's. Maybe those waters were fished out, or maybe with no new Tropper books being released there just wasn't as much interest there anymore.
Regardless, I saw a lot of Wilson's Nothing To See Here cover. That book seemed to be the one most closely linked in the Also-Boughts. Which ... well, still seems like a strange fit. Eventually, I had to read it. And while the fit still didn't make sense, I really liked it.
It's a classic Wilson, in that he starts with a far-out premise, but sets it in a very real world populated with mostly normal people (well, as normal as any of us, when you take a deep dive into our heads). The hook here is there really is something to see, and it's a young brother and sister who spontaneously combust every time they get a little worked up about anything. (Don't worry, they're always fine afterward.)
I enjoyed that one so much, I went back for more, asking for both of his other novels for Christmas. Santa came through, of course, with Now Is Not the Time to Panic and Perfect Little World. I read Now Is Not the Time to Panic earlier this year, and it moved to the top spot on my Wilson list. Another crazy imaginative premise about two teenagers who start a panic in their small Tennessee town by slapping posters everywhere with the spooky nonsense saying, "The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us." Mayhem ensues. People die. It's both funny and sad in places. And so different from anything else out there.
I'm about halfway through Perfect Little World right now, and I'm not sure where it's going to rank for me. Early days yet. So far, it's fighting for third with The Family Fang, but there's time for it to move up the leaderboard.
Wilson's characters are all a little bit misfit, a little depressed, and a lot interesting. Really glad I circled back for more. I've never been a big short story reader, but he just might tempt me across that line, as he has two short story collections out there. Something tells me there will be craziness involved.