Now Is Not the Time To Panic

Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2022. 256p. ISBN 9780062913500. $27.99. F
Wilson (Nothing To See Here) has been carefully building his literary cachet over the past decade, and he’s produced perhaps his most emotionally nuanced and profoundly empathetic novel yet. It tells the story of a 1996 Ohio summer during which two teen outcasts produce a mysterious work of art that instigates a Satanic Panic–style mass hysteria in their hometown simply by virtue of its poetic inscrutability. Wilson appropriates the absurdist foundation of 1980s/1990s moral panic phenomena to cushion his cultural critique, and there’s a baked-in nostalgia to the book’s aesthetic as he demonstrates a keen understanding of the fickleness of adolescence—how “[we] talked about what we always talked about…trying to adequately explain ourselves to another person”—and particularly how we alternately seek to preserve our formative years in amber and to fast-forward toward their expiration. But rather than leveraging any of this toward shallow buzzword topicality, Wilson meaningfully crafts formed characters, allowing his work to register as a universal document of teenage turmoil as blessedly compassionate as it is cunning.
VERDICT Highly recommended as a sincere, sometimes brutal, but always sturdy study of the burden of both art and adolescence and a wonderfully evocative treatise on how we imprint ourselves on the world and learn to survive in that tumultuous wake.
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