Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

( 4 )


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,...

See more details below
BN.com price
(Save 18%)$13.99 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (31) from $1.99   
  • New (16) from $4.18   
  • Used (15) from $1.99   
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
BN.com price


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.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Ann Patchett
“Kevin Wilson’s stories show us a world that is both real and full of illusion…He forces us to look at our own lives in a new and slightly off-kilter way.”
Steve Almond
“I’m drawn to particular authors, folks like George Saunders and Stacey Richter and Kevin Wilson…who I know are going to kick my ass.”
Hannah Tinti
“Has some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long, long time. Kevin Wilson’s stories not only tunnel to the center of the earth—they tunnel through the intricacies of family, love and the dark places of the human soul.”
Alix Ohlin
“Kevin Wilson writes fiction that moves so quickly from twisted hilarity to strange, delicate beauty that you might not notice—until it’s too late—that your heart is good and broken. This collection is like the spontaneous combustion one story in it describes: urgent, amazing, and on fire.”
Brock Clarke
“Kevin Wilson’s brilliant debut is full of characters you won’t be able to forget and wouldn’t want to even if you could.”
Ben Fountain
These superb, often audacious stories rework the ordinary into surreal yet hauntingly plausible worlds, and we emerge seeing ourselves with fresh, if somewhat nervous, clarity.”
Louisville Courier Journal
“Geniously surreal but affecting short stories about spontaneous combustion, Scrabble and angst at all ages. RIYL (Read if you love): George Saunders.”
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.”
“Lush with imagination, humanity, and wit.
Washington Post
“Wilson’s little time-bomb fables have a surrealist zip, like miniature Magritte paintings come to life.”
Bomb Magazine
“Turns the genre of Southern fiction on its head…Wilson’s fully realized characters keep the stories grounded.”
New York Times Book Review
“His work shimmers…Wilson offers fabulous twists and somersaults of the imagination… As Wilson continues to dig into the texture and mystery of the world, his fiction should grow, like his best characters, in strange and remarkable ways.”
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.”
Memphis Commercial Appeal
“These short stories by Kevin Wilson…are weird in the best way. They are bizarre notions that are fleshed out in sustained narrative by a deft maestro...beautifully rendered.”
The Advocate (Baton Rouge)
“There are 11 troubling, strange, offbeat tales in this collection… It’s those sharp insights that keep you reading Wilson’s unusual stories.”
Owen King
“Kevin Wilson is the unholy child of George Saunders and Carson McCullers.... Jesus Christ is this guy good.”
Michael Lindgren
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.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Wilson's captivating debut collection paints an everyday world filled with characters obsessed by weird impulses. Whether it's Guster, the narrator of "The Shooting Man," who goes to great lengths to discover the secret of a sideshow performer whose trick is to shoot himself in the face, or the three bored college grads of the title story who compulsively dig a tunnel beneath their town, Wilson creates a lively landscape with rich and twisted storytelling. A few stories satirize the odd ways families react to tragedy, for example, "Grand Stand-in," which revolves around an elderly woman hired by families who wish to avoid telling their children about an unforeseen death. Two of the best stories involve teens: in "Mortal Kombat," two unpopular quiz bowl stars become enamored of a video game and each other, while "Go, Fight, Win," features a cheerleader who prefers building model cars to the company of her schoolmates. While Wilson has trouble wrapping up a few stories ("Blowing Up on the Spot," "The Museum of Whatnot"), most are fresh and darkly comedic in a Sam Lipsyte way. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A Southern writer with a bent sense of humor offers a fine debut collection of stories, some unlike anything you've read before. Wilson (English/Univ. of the South) displays a marvelous sense of narrative ingenuity. One of the more resonant entries, "Grand Stand-In," concerns a woman who joins a blossoming industry, playing grandmother to fractured families. Other stories sensitively document the emotional trials of adolescence: In "Mortal Kombat," two teenaged boys do battle with their budding, bewildering sexuality, and in "Go, Fight, Win," a reluctant young cheerleader muses that "sex seemed like chicken pox, inevitable and scarring." Hints of Southern Gothicism may be found among these pages. One story, "Birds in the House," details a bizarre ritualistic contest whose winner will inherit an antebellum estate, while another, "The Shooting Man," finds a young man named Guster obsessed with that most rural of spectacles, the traveling sideshow. More often, though, the author tells stories that ring true, and that feature innovative plots and the wit of indie comedy. The best of the lot, "Blowing Up on the Spot," concerns a man, Leonard, who works as a sorter at a Scrabble factory when he's not coping with his suicidal brother, crushing on the girl who works in the candy shop and, well, worrying about what is, for him, the very real danger of spontaneous combustion. Weird and wonderful stories from a writer who has that most elusive of gifts: new ideas. Agent: Julie Barer/Barer Literary
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061579028
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 337,723
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Wilson

Kevin Wilson is the author of the collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (Ecco/HarperPerennial, 2009), which received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award. His fiction has appeared in four volumes of the New Stories from the South: The Year's Best anthology, and he has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. He lives in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he teaches fiction at the University of the South and lives with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his son, Griff.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

Chapter One

Ggrand 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 happy. But it's not hard to imagine what it would have been like: husband, children, grandchildren, pictures on the mantle, visits at Christmas, a big funeral, and ­people who would inherit my money. You can be happy with your life and yet still see the point of one lived differently. That's why it seemed so natural when I saw this ad in the paper: "Grandmothers Wanted—No Experience Necessary."

I am an employee of Grand Stand-In, a Nuclear Family Supplemental Provider. It's pretty simple. With so many new families popping up, upwardly mobile ­couples with new children, there is a segment of thisdemographic, more than you would think, who no longer have any living parents. So many of these new parents feel their children are missing out on a crucial part of their life experience, grandparents. And that's where I come in.

I currently serve as a grandmother to five families in the Southeast. Each role is different, though I specialize in the single, still-active grandmother archetype, usually the paternal grandmother, husband now deceased, quite comfortable but not rich, still pretty, fond of crafts. I am fifty-six years old but I can play younger or older depending on what is needed. The families work out the rest of the details with the company. Old photos are doctored to include my image, a backstory is created, and phone calls and visits are carefully planned. For each project, we call them fams, I am required to memorize a family history that goes back eight generations. It's difficult work, but it's fairly lucrative, nearly ten thousand a year, per family; and with Social Security going down the tubes, it's nice to have spending money. But that alone can't keep you interested. It's hard to describe the feeling you get from opening your door, the inside of your house untouched by feet other than your own for so long, and finding a little boy or girl who is so excited to see you, has thought of little else for the past few days. You feel like a movie star, all the attention. They run into your arms and shout your name, though not your real name, and you are all that they care about.

I go by Gammy, MeeMaw, Grandma Helen, Mimi, and, weirdly enough, Gammy once again. At the beginning, I had trouble responding when someone said my fam name, but you get used to it.

Tonight, while I'm writing birthday, congratulations, and first communion cards for the month, all for different families, I get a call from my family arranger, with offers of new jobs. "The first is easy," he says, "just a six-week job, a not-dead-yet, one kid."

A "not-dead-yet" is when a family purchases, in weekly installments, a phone call from a grandparent who has, still unbeknownst to the child, recently died. It allows the parents time to decide what to say to the child, how to break the news to them. It's a hundred dollars a call, no face time, but it's morbid and I try to avoid them. Still, I have a fairly easy phone schedule for this upcoming month, and it's useful to practice your voice skills, so I take it.

"The next one," he says, "is a little different than usual. We need somebody with good disconnect skills, so of course I immediately thought of you."

"Face time?" I ask.

"Lots of face time," he says. "We're looking at weekly face time."

The more face time, the more preparation required. On the plus side, it makes it easier to establish a bond with the children. It pays a lot more too.

"Okay," I tell him. "I can handle it. What makes it so different? Do I have a husband?"

"No," he says, "It's not that. It's a switch job."

A switch job means the child already knows the actual grandparent but a switch is needed due to an unforeseen death. It has to be done just right, usually with situations where the family rarely sees the grandparent. A switch job with lots of face time could be a problem. You don't want to make it worse on the child, add insult to injury.

"Let me think about it," I tell him.

"Well, think about this too," he says, and then he is quiet for three, maybe four, seconds. "She's still alive."

Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. Copyright © by Kevin Wilson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 23, 2009

    Quirly and Fun... sort of

    Kevin Wilson has written a truly unique collection of shert stories. He has created stories that are morbid, depressed and funny. It is a combination that seems like it would only work if it were over the top - with the morbid being funny. But that isn't so with Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. While at times he hovers near the top - he doesn't go over. Best of all he keeps the reader interested and smiling as we shake our heads in wonder.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Truly Original

    Even though these stories have an element of the bizarre, they are not sensational shockers with freaks for characters. The characters are all sympathetic, normal people stuck in freakish situations. A nice normal woman works as a rent-a-grandma. A man is taken aback by the full set of teeth on his friend's new baby. An understandably fascinated guy convinces his girlfriend to attend a traveling show featuring a man who shoots himself in the face night after night in the name of entertainment. I recommend buying this book and keeping it on hand because I have enjoyed reading the stories with breaks in between so I can absorb the lingering taste of each one--sometimes warm like hot chocolate and sometimes tart yet surprisingly enlightening like a stiff martini.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 12, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:


    "Tunneling To the Center of the Earth: Stories" should be in every short story fan's collection.

    This collection of eleven stories is outstanding, the only other short story collections I would rank right up with this are "We're in Trouble: Stories by Christopher Coake" & "Refresh, Refresh: Stories by Benjamin Percy"!

    This is author Kevin Wilson's book debut and it's a grand slam!


    "Grand Stand-In"
    "Birds in the House"
    "Mortal Kombat"
    "Go, Fight, Win"
    "Worst-Case Scenario"


    "Blowing Up On the Spot" ** (my favorite of the collection)
    "The Shooting Man"
    "The Choir Director Affair (The Baby's Teeth)"
    "The Museum of Whatnot"

    Read these stories and you'll see that Kevin Wilson is a natural talent, very much looking forward to reading more stories & hopefully a novel from him.


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 5 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)