“I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing, not even food or air. And if I wanted nothing, I’d just turn into a ghost. And that would be the end of it.” This is Lillian Breaker.
Lillian is 28 years old and “working two cashier jobs at competing grocery stores, smoking weed in the attic of my mother’s house” when she receives a letter from an old friend asking for help. The friend, Madison Billings Roberts, is extraordinarily beautiful, comes from a wealthy family and is married to an older man who is a Senator from the state of Tennessee. Lillian comes from a poor single parent family.
Lillian and Madison met when they were high school freshman at the exclusive Iron Mountain Girls Prepatory School, where they were roommates. Lillian was able to attend on a scholarship and the two became close friends. They both did well in school and played on the school basketball team. Madison was extremely ambitious. She told Lillian that “I want to be powerful. I want to be the person who makes big things happen, where people owe me so many favors that they can never pay me back.” However, in connection with an incident involving cocaine, Madison’s father and Lillian’s mother, Lillian was unjustly expelled from the school. Although the two continued to write letters to each other, they had not seen each other before Lillian received the request for help.
Lillian gets on a bus and is met in the Nashville bus station by Carl, who “looked like a man who was really into watches.” Carl drives Lillian to the estate where Madison lives with her husband, Jasper and son, Timothy in a mansion with servants. Timothy is quiet and awkward and Madison is as beautiful as ever. Carl is the family fixer and is involved in every part of the story.
After some pleasantries, Madison explains what she needs. Jasper has two children, Bessie and Roland, from a prior marriage and his former wife has recently died. He needs to take the children but he is concerned that they will hinder his political ambitions because, when they are stressed, they simply spontaneously combust. Lillian, who has absolutely no experience with children, agrees to take care of the kids, and she, Bessie and Roland live in a separate fireproofed structure on the mansion grounds. Jasper is not a particularly attentive father or a particularly likable person. Lillian cannot tolerate Jasper but she seems to have a blind spot for her manipulative childhood friend.
Madison and Lillian see each other periodically and have a memorable one on one basketball game in front of the children, including Timothy, who begins to become acquainted with his half siblings. Predictably, Lillian grows very attached to Bessie and Roland. When Jasper is offered the position of Secretary of State he decides that the children must be sent away. At that point, all hell breaks loose and I will let you read the story to find out what happens.
The book is a light easy read with a little bit of a moral attached to it, focused on the issues of privilege, power and decency. The book is dedicated to Ann Patchett and Julie Barer (literary agent). Anything with Ann Patchett associated with it has to be good. That said, this is not great literature but a fun and quirky read. You can reserve Nothing to See Here at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.