Tunneling to the Center of the Earthby Kevin Wilson
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
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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.
The Washington Post
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.
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Tunneling to the Center of the Earth
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.
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Meet the Author
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.
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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.
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.
"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! GOOD: "Grand Stand-In" "Birds in the House" "Mortal Kombat" "Go, Fight, Win" "Worst-Case Scenario" GREAT: "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. Enjoy~
Each story not only had string characters with interesting mindsets, but Wilson makes you a part of their worlds. I loved this book.