I spotted Kevin Wilson’s Tunneling to the Centre of the Earth on Netgalley, reminding me of how much I enjoyed his novel, Nothing to See Here. It’s a new edition of his first short story collection comprising eleven pieces. Knowing that many of them were written when Wilson was a student, my expectations weren’t particularly high but with one exception, all were enjoyable, replete with the wacky motifs which made his novel one of my books of 2020.
I think about what will happen tomorrow, the parents shouting at my family arranger, exasperated with the love they have paid good money for but must now forfeit
Grand Stand-in, the first story in the collection and one of my favourites, sets the characteristic quirky tone with a woman hired out as a grandmother to those who don’t have one, taking pride in her ability to switch off her feelings for each of her five families until a new client takes things a step too far. Mortal Kombat is about two teenage boys, both with a nerdish command of trivia, confused by the sexual exploration which threatens to destroy the only friendship each of them has. In Tunneling to the Centre of the Earth three graduates in subjects that leave them unprepared for the world find purpose in digging a hole which turns into a network of tunnels and underground rooms leaving their parents perplexed. Worst-case Scenario sees a graduate in Catastrophe spending his working day telling his clients all about the worst that can happen to them while busily bringing about what he fears most in his own life. In Blowing Up on the Spot, which contains the seeds of Nothing to See Here, a young man, orphaned when his parents spontaneously combusted and beset by worries about the possibility of inheriting the condition, experiences a liberating epiphany after falling in love.
They are alone in the world, in the school, in this tiny room, but they are together and that helps; they make each other possible
In his introduction Wilson describes discovering that writing was a way of dampening down his odd obsessions, memorably likening writing his stories to knowingly crashing a stolen car into a tree and walking away. He’s a writer with an affinity with the social misfit, a recurrent theme cropping up in most of the stories listed above plus several others including the painfully awkward cheerleader of Go, Fight Win and the young museum curator in The Museum of Whatnot who not only prefers her obscure workplace which few visit but happily arranges the strange collections bequeathed it by eccentrics. Wilson explores the human condition with its many foibles and idiosyncrasies, serving his stories up with a hefty dose of dark humour leavened with poignancy and compassion. I enjoyed his collection much more than I expected.
Text Publishing: London 9781911231370 240 pages Paperback (read via NetGalley)