I picked up Kevin Wilson’s Now is Not the Time to Panic shortly after it was released this fall. I read about it in the New York Times Book Review (paywall unlocked), and I was intrigued by both the title and the cover. As usual, the Book Review did not steer me wrong.
Now is Not the Time to Panic
by Kevin Wilson
Now is Not the Time to Panic is an energetic and sweet novel with themes of friendship, growing up, and the power of art. The story takes place both in the present day and in the summer of 1996, before social media and mobile phones changed how we communicate.
The novel’s protagonists are Frances Eleanor (Frankie) and Zeke. They are two teenage loners who meet at the pool that summer in boring, ordinary Coalfield, Tennessee. They immediately click and begin an intense friendship with just a little bit of romance. Do you remember being 16? New relationships of any type feel fiery and profound. Frankie wants to write YA novels (evil Nancy Drew!) and Zeke wants to be an artist. So what happens when two bored, creative teenagers find themselves with a lot of time on their hands? They decide to create art.
They create a poster, with Zeke’s drawings and a nonsensical phrase that just comes to Frankie.
The edge is a shantytown filled with gold seekers. We are fugitives, and the law is skinny with hunger for us.*
For fun, they make a couple hundred copies, which they secretly hang all over Coalfield. The town starts to notice, and everyone is left to interpret the poster differently. What does it mean? The poster goes viral before viral was a thing, even popping up in other cities, other countries, in the national news. Through a series of events, a young man takes his own life in relation to the poster, and the entire situation spins out of control, becoming the Coalfield Panic of ‘96.
Twenty years later, Frankie is a successful author - thanks, in part, to those “evil Nancy Drew” books she started writing in high school. She has been contacted by a writer from The New Yorker, who is researching the Coalfield Panic of ‘96 for an article. The reporter has followed multiple leads and discovered that Frankie is the poster’s creator. Frankie has kept her involvement a secret for 20 years, and she knows that it’s time to let the people in her life (her mother, her children, her husband) know about the part she played, before they read about it. She also finds Zeke, and we learn what happened to him over the last two decades, as he and Frankie have not communicated since that one, hot summer.
While the novel effectively communicated the fervor generated by the poster, it was mostly great fun to read. The present-day chapters weren’t as impactful for me as the 1996 memories. For me, this was a book about a powerful, although short-lived, friendship. Even more, this book is about how art has the power to change the world, and how different interpretations can have a far-reaching impact on our lives.
This book is a great read and I recommend it.
*NPR has a wonderful interview with author Kevin Wilson, where he explains how this piece is a tiny bit memoir and that the nonsense phrase is real (but still nonsense). Listen to it here.
Today’s wine is an inviting white wine that brings to mind a hot summer day, just like the day Frankie met Zeke at the pool.
Domaine Ortola Cuvée Nautica 2021
Languedoc White (France)
White blend of 70% Vermentino, 20% Grenache Blanc, 10% Viognier
Certified biodynamic, 13% AbV
The Nautica is a compelling blend of grapes that you don’t see that often. It’s pale straw in color. The nose is emphatically peach, but also has florals courtesy of the 10% Viognier. I taste apricot preserves, and immense peaches. My notes actually read “peachy peachy peachy but balanced.” Only 10% of Viognier can go a long way, and I believe it provides the balance here, keeping the peach notes from overwhelming the wine. It’s a charming, solid wine and would easily stand up to a fish or vegetarian pairing.
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Why did I transition to Paid? It’s my passion to connect the art of writing with the joy of wine and spirits and share it with the world. I strive to build a community where we can share in the delight of discovery – and your contribution will go a long way in helping to ensure our adventure together can continue. 😉
Thank you again for your support and I’ll land in your Inbox again next week!
Michelle, your substack blog is a delight. I look forward to it. It makes me smile to think you have returned to your vineyard roots. Keep it up.