This was such a delightfully weird novel that I burned through it than less than a day (pun intended.) I remember an interview with the author on NPR awhile back and liking the premise—a woman is hired to take care of the step-children of a high school friend, whose husband is a senator with aspirations for higher office. One wrinkle out of many is that the children catch on fire. Spontaneously combust. They themselves are unharmed but they can easily set fire to anything or anyone around them.
However, the full novel is even more darkly funny than the excerpt led me to believe. Fifteen years after being kicked out of the Iron Mountain Girls Preparatory School, Lillian who had been a scholarship student with “promise,” now finds herself living with her mom and working at the local Save-A-Lot. She has given up striving for things and is only interested in making life pass tolerably via recreational drugs and a series of bad boyfriends.
When Lillian gets a letter from her boarding school roommate, Madison, offering her a job, Lillian doesn’t hesitate even though she has no idea what the job is. The two women have corresponded over the years and Lillian knows that Madison is married, has a young son, and is focused on supporting her husband, Jasper’s political career, which is on the rise. In turn, Maddie knows that Lillian’s car won’t make the 6 hour journey to Franklin, Tennessee, so she includes money for bus fare.
Lillian is picked up at the bus station by Carl, a driver/security guard, who seems both suspicious and unimpressed with her. When she arrives at the Robert’s compound, which is sumptuous beyond her wildest imagination, Lilian is not surprised to find her friend, Maddie, unchanged—still beautiful, focused, but with an undertone of weird (which is what drew them together in the first place). When Lillian learns about the children and what Maddie would like her to do—basically care for them, keep them safe, and keep them out of the media spotlight—Lillian both wonders what Maddie thinks makes her qualified to do this but also thinks, “What the hell?”
To give away any more of what happens next is to take the fun out of this weird, funny, novel that goes in places you might not expect. My recommendation is simply to read it.