Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson

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Back in early 2006, after repeated recommendations by my friend Jim, I finally read Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” series. In case you’re not familiar with the series, one of the themes is that of a world that has run down, a civilization that has decayed to the point that it could hardly be called one any more. At one point, in one of the later books, the hero Roland stumbles upon a kind of “control room” where apparently the conditions of the world of his and his companions can be adjusted by changing the settings on the room’s control panels. Now, the fact that our lives are governed by forces beyond our ken is certainly not a new one (see Homer, for example) but this technological manifestation of a control room was a neat twist that I hadn’t encountered before.

What I think I’m coming to realize now, the more I read, is that many authors have access to such a control room of sorts – one that not only changes the destinies of the characters themselves, but also the laws of nature or rules of the world they inhabit. Many of the stories in Kevin Wilson’s collection, “Tunneling to the Center of the Earth” take place in a world whose conditions have been tweaked ever so slightly. Behavior and environments that “could never be” in The Real World are present, and present with such a light touch that even a stodgy reader is able to suspend disbelief and enjoy the stories nonetheless…

Of the eleven stories in the book, only a couple didn’t “do it” for me. Of the remaining nine, there are some real treats. “Grand Stand-in” deals with a woman who works for a kind of rent-a-grandmother service for families whose children don’t have a grandmother and are thus robbed of the experience. (See? Not part of the world we live in, but not that far removed from reality.) Things go swimmingly for the stand-in Grandma until she gets a new “assignment” for a family whose grandma is… still living.

Another favorite was “The Museum of Whatnot,” featuring a young woman who works in a museum of curiosities. Her mother is concerned that she’ll “never meet a man” while working in such an oddball place, and it seems she may be correct – until a doctor begins visiting every day, just to look at the museum’s collection of spoons…

“The Shooting Man” is the darkest of the tales, but also quite effective. It would not be out of place in a collection of Flannery O’Connor short stories:  A husband is insistent that his wife go with him and his friends to see a traveling sideshow-type performance that includes the famous “shooting man” – who appears to shoot himself in the forehead every night for curious audiences. She doesn’t want to go, but eventually relents. Predictably, she finds it gruesome and distasteful, while he becomes a bit too curious to learn what the “trick” is.

The title story involves three recent college graduates who, searching fruitlessly for some aim in life, having “devoted our academic careers to things we couldn’t seem to find applicability to the world we were now in.” So (why not?) they begin to tunnel in the backyard of one of their parents’ homes…

Probably my favorite though was the longest story titled “Go, Fight, Win” whose main character is a sixteen year old girl who is the “new girl” at school, and whose mother pushes her to try out for the cheerleading team. “Penny” doesn’t really want to, but does so for her mother’s sake, or perhaps just to get mom off her back. Add to the mix a strange and precocious neighbor boy and Penny’s obsession with building plastic model cars (Aha! That story finally explained the book cover picture) and the result is a great story. I enjoyed this short book and was also impressed with how convincingly he wrote from the female voice in some of these stories.

Has anyone else read any Kevin Wilson? I first heard about him last July through Melody’s blog, Fingers and Prose.

(Below: author Kevin Wilson. Looks an awful lot like poker player Tom Dwan!)

The author’s website may be found here.

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6 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    January 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Jay, these sound like some great stories. I had not heard of this author before. “Grand Stand-in” sounds like it could be especially good – perhaps funny or dark or both?

    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      January 28, 2013 at 4:06 pm

      Hi Dale,
      Not so dark or funny, but a very nice twist at the end. Both Grand Stand-In and The Shooting Man would’ve been made into Twilight Zone screenplays if they were written 50 years ago…
      -Jay

      Like

  2. January 29, 2013 at 12:21 am

    So glad you enjoyed this! For the most part, the stories tickled my imagination. There is something about his writing style that suits me. That funny/serious combo I think.

    Like

  3. bookworm said,

    September 15, 2013 at 10:35 am

    This sounds like an interesting collection. I like how you refer to King’s Dark Tower series at the start here in the way the authors change the laws of nature. Fantastic post.

    Like


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