Wilson, Kevin. Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories. Ecco, 2009. ISBN 978-0061579028 208 pp. $13.99
Caveat – I LOVE short stories 😉 As a young adult librarian, I always included a few collections in my book talks, because it’s a great way to discover new writers, and they are a good fit for a teen’s lifestyle, which is often lacking in time for leisure reading. A short story can be devoured in one sitting on the bus, before bed, in study hall – and you don’t have to keep track of plots and characters if you don’t have a chance to pick the book up again for weeks.
This was an absolute GEM of a book for me. Honestly, I kept having moments of “Why didn’t I think of that?!” as I was reading, especially with “Grand Stand-in” and “Worst Case Scenario.” While I don’t like magical realism much, I do like the juxtaposition of the absurd with the “normal,” and there was a lot of that here.
I didn’t read this collection straight through, but skipped around. Some of the stories border on speculative and experimental, yet are highly accessible. The characters resonate and linger, made real because of their quirks and flaws, not in spite of them.
My favorite story was “The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys” — it was just breathtaking. The style, as a novel, would be overdone, but it worked so well. Amazing attention to relevant detail, and I love how the narrator reveals himself, as he talks about his sibling. The central metaphor of “Mortal Kombat” might have been a bit unsubtle, but the intensity fit the age of protagonists.
I majored in creative writing as an undergrad, and have a healthy respect for what it takes to pare a story to its essence and still make it unique and engaging. I especially appreciated the author’s note at the end on the spark behind each tale, and that each one was inspired in part by another writer or story. The cover art, of a disassembled model car, fits the theme of pieces that fit together being deconstructed to understand.