Quirky to the Max!
My first exposure to author Kevin Wilson is a memorable one. He is OUT there! This group of short stories, selected by my book club, is wonderfully creative and bizarre. Some of the stories elicited a goofy grin. Others brought about a feeling of horror. Responding to an interview question at the back of the book, Kevin Wilson said, "The real trick is to embrace the ridiculous nature of the stories without making the concerns of the characters ridiculous." He accomplished this ten-fold. According to the author, these stories are about loneliness, family, and love. I noticed a theme of mothers pushing their kids to make friends or get married when the kids wanted nothing to do with it.
The first story, "Grand Stand-In", is about an older woman who gets paid to pretend to be a grandmother for various families. Say Grandma died suddenly and you don't want to tell your kids. Just hire fake grandma and she'll step in, memorizing your kids' birthdays and bringing them their favorite toys. Or, say your kids haven't seen Grandma for years because Grandma is a bitch. Hire the nice-stand in to take her place. Fake Grandma is doing just fine until she discovers fake children hired to dupe the real kids' grandma. The punker gets punked, and now she wants out. I'm probably not making any sense describing this story because these stories don't really make sense!
More unique characters and plots litter the stories: a young man whose parents died from self-combusting now works at the Scrabble factory, hunting down all the Q tiles . . . After the reading of his grandmother's will, a boy watches his father and uncles create 250 origami cranes to determine who will inherit grandmother's house--the brother who makes the crane surviving a blast of high-powered fans will win . . . a young woman works at the "Museum of Whatnot", intrigued by a doctor who is mesmerized by a collection of old spoons . . . two A/V nerds who bond over Quiz Bowl and Mortal Kombat, confused by their feelings for each other.
I must admit I didn't understand "The Dead Sister's Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys".
The title of this collection comes from my favorite story -- "Tunneling to the Center of the Earth". Three friends just graduated from college with the majors Gender Studies, Canadian History, and Morse Code (I'm not making this up.) They're completely aimless and one day agree "We should dig, get underground." Why? Who knows. So they gather shovels and start digging a hole in one of their backyards. The hole gets so deep they decide to start digging sideways, tunneling all around their neighborhood. They bring sleeping bags and headlamps and start living down there in their tunnels. (I swear
I'm not making this up!) There are a lot of jobless and directionless college grads out there right now in this bad economy, and maybe they can learn a thing or two from this unbelievably peculiar story?
No doubt this is excellent writing, and definitely not boring.