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 Providera 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.
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 ...
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
If you liked Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, try these:
A novel on the anxiety and disconnection of post-9/11 America, on the insidiousness of racism, the blind-sidedness of war, and the recklessness thrust on others in the name of love.
Atmospheric Disturbances is at once a moving love story, a dark comedy, a psychological thriller, and a deeply disturbing portrait of a fracturing mind.
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