Summary and book reviews of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

Stories

By Kevin Wilson

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth
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  • Paperback: Apr 2009,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

Kevin Wilson's characters inhabit a world that moves seamlessly between the real and the imagined, the mundane and the fantastic. "Grand Stand-In" is narrated by an employee of a Nuclear Family Supplemental Provider—a company that supplies "stand-ins" for families with deceased, ill, or just plain mean grandparents. And in "Blowing Up On the Spot," a young woman works sorting tiles at a Scrabble factory after her parents have spontaneously combusted.

Southern gothic at its best, laced with humor and pathos, these wonderfully inventive stories explore the relationship between loss and death and the many ways we try to cope with both.

Chapter One

Grand Stand-In

The key to this job is to always remember that you aren't replacing anyone's grandmother. You aren't trying to be a better grandmother than the first one. For all intents and purposes, you are the grandmother, and always have been. And if you can do this, can provide this level of grandmotherliness with each family, every time, then you can make a good career out of this. Not to say that it isn't weird sometimes. Because it is. More often than not, actually, it is incredibly, undeniably weird.

I never had a family of my own. I didn't get married, couldn't see the use of it. Most of my own family is gone now, and the ones that are still around, I don't see anymore. To most ­people, I probably look like an old maid, buying for one, and this is perfectly fine with me. I like my privacy; if I go to bed with someone, it isn't a person who has to spend his entire life with me afterward. I like the dimensions of the space I take up, and I am ...

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Reviews

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The stories in Tunneling to the Center of the Earth grab you from the first line (It took me damn near a week to convince Sue-Bee to come watch this guy shoot himself in the face) and surprise you with shocks of tenderness mingled with absurdity. Many of these stories involve some little tweak of reality that makes them loveable, funny, and engaging, illuminating their often sad underpinnings. The opening story, "Grand Stand-In," is narrated by an older woman with no family of her own who answers an ad in the paper: "Grandmothers Wanted - No Experience Necessary." Soon she's employed by a Nuclear Family Supplemental Provider - in short, she's a rent-a-grandma for five families whose own matriarchs have died before their kids got to know them, or who are too unwell to be any fun. In a novel such an improbable premise would likely devolve into science fiction of the least interesting kind. But in 26 pages, Wilson makes this a beautiful and deeply human meditation on loneliness, and the expectations and failures of family.

My favorite story in the collection, "The Museum of Whatnot", involves a serious young woman who cares for a museum of obsessively collected junk, and an older doctor who comes in once a week to stare at the collection of ordinary stainless-steel spoons. All of the characters in these stories are lonely; each story is about finding a way to become a little less lonely – in the most unusual ways.

Abbreviated from "Short Stories for Summer" by Lucia Silva  

Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

"[A] captivating debut ...while Wilson has trouble wrapping up a few stories...most are fresh and darkly comedic in a Sam Lipsyte way.

The Washington Post

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth gets under your skin…Wilson's little time-bomb fables have a surrealist zip, like miniature Magritte paintings come to life.

Kirkus Reviews

Weird and wonderful stories from a writer who has that most elusive of gifts: new ideas.

Boston Globe

Acute and uniformly unsettling, these fictions explore themes of loss and loneliness with fresh young insight, and occasionally with a faint rainbow at the end.

Time Out (New York)

To write such masterful stories takes a graceful eye, and, even more, a compassionate heart. Wilson has both. His disturbing, moving tales burrow their way under our skin and stay there.

Louisville Courier Journal

Geniously surreal but affecting short stories about spontaneous combustion, Scrabble and angst at all ages.

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