On the edge is a shanty town full of gold diggers, we are the new refugees, and the law has starved us.
This article, written by the author Kevin Wilson’s last friend, Eric, is the introduction to Wilson’s new book “This Is No Time to Fear.” The novel follows Frankie, a 16-year-old girl who isn’t too happy to spend one summer in her sleepy Tennessee town. He meets Zeke, an artist who lives with his grandmother. The couple decides to spend the summer “being bored together,” which means creating art and driving through the inevitable conflict that comes from two young people spending a lot of time together.
While making art with Zeke, Frankie writes Eric’s quote: On the edge is a shanty town full of gold diggers, we are the new refugees, and the law has starved us. Afterwards, he remembers, “It was the greatest thing I’ve ever written. I knew then and there. And I’ll never write anything that good again. It sounded good to my ears.”
Wrapping up his words, Zeke draws his interpretation of this quote:
“He starts by drawing these electric cables, stretching across the page like little marks, and as soon as he has a sense of scale, he draws these beautiful shacks, a line of them, the roofs falling in.” He drew pieces of detritus, an old, burned-out car, a pack of wild dogs. And then, out in the open, he drew four beds, their headboards like Gothic churches, many children wrapped in sheets.”
After snapping their fingers and sprinkling some of their blood on the piece, they decide to make 120 copies and hang them in their town. The art causes the result of a culture shock in the town and even the country. After the first poster was thought to be related to a religious work, the piece of art quickly became a symbol of dissent and rebellion. Frankie says, “You saw what was happening and you either denied it or let it affect you.” There is no way that everyone in Frankie’s town knew what the poster meant, but they all felt the need to act on it based on their own interpretation of the work.
Frankie and Zeke don’t even create another piece of art, but keep hanging up the copies even as chaos ensues and they fight over the existence of the poster, resulting in death. Frankie and Zeke end up falling out, ending the friendship they built that summer.
Twenty years later, Frankie is an established writer. He gets a call from a journalist who has linked his skills to him and wants to publish a story. The piece of art and public attention was called the “Coalfield Panic of 1996,” and no one knew where the work was. After reuniting with Zeke and doing some soul-searching, Frankie decides to let the reporter cover the story despite her fears and fears of the consequences of being linked to the poster.
“Now Is Not the Time to Fear” asks readers to believe in this piece of art that can only be imagined. The only interpretation of this piece is through Frankie’s eyes which makes it difficult to do believe that all of the following consequences are true. It was difficult as a reader to have faith in this work because we don’t really get to see the final product. Perhaps this is the point, that art has more power than we can imagine or expect, but I found this part of the story an obstacle in the integration of reality and the novel.
I’m curious about Wilson’s choice, as a man, to write from the perspective of a teenage girl rather than a boy. As I entered my teenage years, Wilson Frankie’s character was not very satisfying. It would be interesting if he wrote this book from Zeke’s point of view or invented Frankie is a complete boy. A male friendship would have been more faithful to the friendship between Wilson and his friend Eric that the book is based on. Instead, Frankie makes choices and has emotions that seem like the corpse of a teenage girl, coming off as paranoid at times. For example, after Zeke and Frankie’s final fight he says, “It felt like my life was coming to an end, like the best thing was gone forever, and maybe I wondered if it was worth it to keep living.” Frankie had never said such a bad thing before, so it was hard for him to go so far as to fight with his friend. I don’t think it’s impossible for male writers to capture a different experience of being a teenage girl, but I think Wilson would have benefited greatly from having someone with personal experience of adolescence to advise on Frankie’s character.
In a book review, Sloane Crosley from the New York Times wrote, “The main themes (art, friendship, memory) sit like Vaseline on a pond, with repetition often waiting for insight,” and I would love to. agree. “This Is Not The Time To Be Afraid” could have used more focus on the plot instead of trying to reach a pointless conclusion that would have flowed on its own if the story stood on its own two feet. The description of the novel’s main quote at the beginning of the book emphasizes Wilson’s desire to pay tribute to his dead friend, but basing the book on a single word might be a better idea for a short story. Instead, the novel itself seems to be full of half-baked ideas with plot points that seem extremely vague and often out of place.
Most of the issues I had with the novel, I enjoyed anticipating what would happen next. I may not have been happy with the ending and wished for more, but Wilson’s portrayal of American childhood was poignant and kept me interested until the last page.
Daily Arts Writer Isabella Kassa can be found at [email protected].