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Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories

4.07 of 5 stars 4.07  ·  rating details  ·  1,291 ratings  ·  254 reviews
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 sort ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published March 31st 2009 by Harper Perennial (first published 2009)
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Kevin Wilson’s Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Stories reads like the author read a whole lot of Flannery O’Connor while sitting alone at the lunch table in high school. I mean that in a good way.

The stories veer from the vaguely fantasy/sci-fi (“The Grand Stand-In”, about grandparents for hire in the near future) to the creepy (“The Shooting Man”) to the Zen-esque calm of outsiders who struggle with identity (the isolative curator of “The Museum of Whatnot”). Wilson tends to share the per
Terence Hawkins
After I read the first entry in this remarkable collection-----which, incidentally, concerns the moral and emotional conflicts of a professional rent-a-grandma------I put the book down. Only one story a night, Terry. Pace yourself, man. This is too good to read all at once.

It really is. Wilson has a remarkable ability to get us into the heads of everyday people in surreal situations. A guy who works in a scrabble-piece factory, terrified that he will spontaneously combust, as his parents did. Ha
An excellent story collection that brings to mind the strange & compelling work of Elizabeth McCracken. These stories run the gamut of peculiar professions and misplaced oddballs: a professional "grandma" who makes memories on demand, a Scrabble factory worker who fears spontaneous combustion, a freak show regular who takes a bullet to the head every night, a cheerless cheerleader, a curator of banal objects and a balding worst-case scenario expert, among others. Simple prose and straight fo ...more
Mary Lynn
When I picked this book up in Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago I was so drawn in to the first story that I immediately found a seat in the store to read more of it instead of continuing to browse through B&N. (And browsing in B&N is just about my favorite thing in the world, so the fact that I ended up devoting my entire trip to this one book is saying something!) That first story was called "Grand Stand-In" and here's that opening graph that grabbed me and wouldn't let go:

The key to thi
Mark Stevens
Bold, confident, matter-of-fact weirdness. These 11 stories start strange, stay strange and beg you to believe all these unusual situations are, well, perfectly plausible. Kevin Wilson takes reality and gives it an ever-so-slight Twilight Zone inversion.

Slight? Well, maybe more than slight. In most of these, he stretches the ordinary and part of the inherent tension is this: how far is he going to take this premise?

Next, Wilson adds a colorful, memorable character who accepts this alternate real
I picked up Tunneling to the Center of the Earth as I was wandering around at Parnassus, the only indie bookstore in Nashville, TN. Wilson's short story book, along with his novel, were laid out on the "Local Authors" table. The collection of short stories was not what I expected. In a good way.

If I were to compare, thought Wilson does not need to be compared, I would compare this collection to Etgar Keret's collections, perhaps The Girl on the Fridge. Sure, Wilson's characters are very in-the-m
The stories in Tunneling to the Center of the Earth grab you from the first line (It took me damn near a week to convince Sue-Bee to come watch this guy shoot himself in the face) and surprise you with shocks of tenderness mingled with absurdity. Many of these stories involve some little tweak of reality that makes them loveable, funny, and engaging, illuminating their often sad underpinnings. The opening story, "Grand Stand-In," is narrated by an older woman with no family of her own who answer ...more
This was another NPR selection. There was something kind of Stephen King-esque about these stories. They weren't really horror stories, but there was always soemthing kind of weird and unsettling going on -- Stephen King Lite, I guess. As a whole, the stories range from three to four and a half stars, so I went with a three star overall rating. (If only we had Ann's pie chart method!!) Here are some of my favorites:

"Grand Stand In" -- This is the story of a woman who works for a company that pro
Caveat - I LOVE short stories ;) As a YA 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
Kevin Wilson is my new author boyfriend. These stories are so great, you guys. You should just read them. It has been a while since I read a book that I started making plans to sneak away with. OK, so at lunch I'll be able to read another story and then on the subway ride home, I'll be able to read a little bit more and if I don't return so-and-sos phone call, I can read a little bit more. This is how good they are. The hook of each of them is so clever. A grandmother stand in service? A woman h ...more
This guy just jumped into my car and screaming, "GO, GO, GO!!!" And I didn't know where we were going but the way he spoke made me certain that I would love it, wherever it was.

And so it was.

We peeled around strange corners and squealed through peoples lives, odd characters I never would have met or even imagined in my own life, with my own imagination at the wheel. Smashing through their kitchen windows and listening in our their private conversations, voyeurs breaking the speed of dreams, I w
Al Zaquan
All his stories can be summed up in a sentence. His characters are always made to be lacking in some obvious, uncomplicated way - whether it's a baby with monstrous teeth, girl with no social connections, college grads who'd rather dig holes in the ground than think about their careers. This is a simple book full of very simple, short stories. The emotional wins at the end of every story, as a result, feel similarly simple. Rather than writing a character who is fully human, the author pokes som ...more
This book merits the adjective "amazing." Wilson's stories are so good for reasons that almost seem unusual nowadays--they are rooted in grand ideas and memorable plots. A woman works as a grandma for hire... a man becomes fascinated by a circus trick that amounts to suicide... and another man is hired to tell his clients various theories about the worst things could happen to them. There are strong hooks throughout this book and it has the feel of a classic collection, maybe even the same class ...more
Yue [Wonder of living]
Jun 16, 2012 Yue [Wonder of living] rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Everyone.
Recommended to Yue [Wonder of living] by: Colby
Whoa. Mind freaking blown.

Kevin Wilson is a genius. In this surreal anthology of wild short stories, he twists gut-wrenching bittersweet, hopeful, beautiful stories that just... I have no words.

Also, Go Fight Win is my favorite.:)

The characters are so relatable. In a strange way, I connect to their insecurities, fears, passions. So yes. In other words, go read. Get ready for your mind to be blown.
Go read this book. Why? Because two different people* have each stolen my lent-out copy rather than give it up. =) The stories are that good. You want to keep them around. Recently I had to buy my third copy of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. And will I lend it out again? You betcha...because everyone should read this book.

* (an acquaintance and an ex-boyfriend, in case you were curious)
Anah Malik
This novel is a series of short stories put together in no particular order, and following no particular theme (though some may disagree).

Kevin Wilson is best known for his short stories, he is a simple yet immensely emotional and philosophical writer. Wilson's stories vary in age, in moral, in theme, and yet each of them is told in a very personal tone. He plays the role of the narrative extremely well, allowing the reader to experience, understand, and love the characters. All of his character
A solid collection of stories, mostly about lost persons filling their lives with activities that satisfy, but only gloss over their own personal emptinesses. Most of the stories have a happy or hopeful feeling to the endings -- or, at least, a satisfying conclusion. My favorites -- "The Dead Sisters Handbook: a Guide for Sensitive Boys," "The Choir Director's Affair (The Baby's Teeth)" (with its excellent use of the second person, very engaging) and "The Museum of Whatnot" (touches me in my arc ...more
Teresa Moore
It's like George Saunders went Southern Gothic. Dark as the blackest night but also very funny. Highly recommended.
Andrew Teperdjian
This 240 paged collection of short stories left me with a sense of depression because each story has a life that is totally messed up for some reason. I find that even distopian book are happier than this book. Each story within this book start of with a random character working in unrealistic, and depressing, jobs such as: Worst Case Scenario Inc. Their ending were fine, nothing special about them. Not very memorable.

Each chapter was its own story. Their sentences were very abrupt and not very
Maybe my favorite book of short stories of all time. Each story is incredibly odd in the best possible way. Reading them feels voyeuristic, like you're intruding onto a fully-formed world filled with strange but believable characters caught in strange but believable circumstances. It borders on surreal but never loses its relatability. My favorites are "Mortal Kombat," "Blowing Up on the Spot," "The Dead Sister Handbook," and "Go, Fight, Win." I've reread them all several times and plan on doing ...more
What a weird little short story collection.
I'll be honest - the title and cover art grabbed my attention for this book, but I'm so glad it happened that way. These are some of the best, most innovative and interesting short stories I've ever read. The first story pulled me in and each of the following were just as fascinating. Wilson writes in a world where there is a company of stand-in grandmothers for families who aren't ready to tell their children that granny has passed on, where letters must be manually sorted in a Scrabble factory ...more
Many of Kevin Wilson’s stories in his collection “Tunneling to the Center of the Earth ”are structured around the plausibility of the absurd. Spontaneous human-combustion, scrabble-tile sorting as a profession, and paper cranes determining an inheritance sound feasible and not at all unlikely. The oddity of the events that Wilson uses as scaffolding for his stories does not interfere with the sharp insights into the composition of his characters.

At the start of the collection I wasn’t entirely w
In Kevin Wilson's first collection of short stories-characters inhabit a world that moves seamlessly between the real and the imagined, the mundane and the fantastic. I am not sure I think of this as Southern Gothic...but then I don't think you have to fit writing into "genres"...only if your a book store

"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 i
An utterly inspired collection of short stories, the whole package bubbling with affection, yearning, irony, sadness, character, humour; I honestly enjoyed every single one, which came as a surprise, as I usually find short story collections – especially if I’m not already familiar with the author – a bit hit and miss, or at least find some ‘filler’ material in the mix… not so with Kevin Wilson’s Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. After a while, I felt as though I were reading a complete wor ...more
Matt Stalbaum
I'm usually stingy on giving 5 star ratings to books, and I'll even admit that Kevin Wilson's stories don't have the spark of brilliance that a Karen Russell story or Italo Calvino story might have. But I can't deny, Wilson's stories are still entertaining, wildly imaginative, and emotionally insightful, and there isn't a story in the entire collection I didn't like. His characters are often sad and unfulfilled, but don't linger in despair, as their lives slowly come up against forces that deman ...more
“She is prettier than her picture had prepared me for, blond curls, big blue eyes, like a fake child that someone would make in order to convince people to have children” (13).
“I walk down the stairs, into the exercise room, where the Beamers are riding machines to infinity” (16).
“To unlock the potential power of the letter Q, one must learn quickly that there are other words to spell than those that have the standard qu structure like quartet and quality and queen. Qat, qaid, qoph, and faqir wi
Diann Blakely
When questioning my tastes and predilections, I like to remind myself of this one: so far as I know, I was Wilson's first reviewer: in Fall 2009, he published a cover story titled "Fear of Glass" for the OXFORD AMERICAN and I was--so to speak--knocked ajar to the point where I picked the essay for a "Best of Nashville" piece for the NASHVILLE SCENE / Village Voice Media for their annual issue bearing this title. Little did Wilson need my help: the next thing I heard was that, shattering all obst ...more
John Luiz
I am not normally a fan of offbeat, fantastical stories, preferring fiction with realistic situations that shed insight on circumstances I might share in my own life. But Kevin Wilson, who goes back and forth between the real and surreal throughout this collection, won me over big-time. Even his often odd premises - like parents who hire professionals to pretend to be grandparents to their children - bear too close a resemblance to reality, given how many parents won't take their children to nur ...more
These stories are slightly reminiscent of Kelly Link, although they're not really Magical Realism, but more Surrealistic Realism. The premises in all of these stories are all feasible, whereas in Link, they are often not. The first story was my favorite and really really good. It's about a woman in her late 50's who works for an agency that supplies families with a grandmother. Usually, it's for families where the actual grandmother has died, and the parents want the children to still have the e ...more
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Kevin Wilson was born, raised, and still lives in Tennessee. His writing has appeared in Ploughshares, One Story, Greensboro Review, The Oxford American, Carolina Quarterly and elsewhere. His work has twice been included in the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology (2005, 2006). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, and the KHN Center for the Arts. A graduat ...more
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“Don't you see? The things we once loved do not change, only our belief in them... You are left with the only things that any of us have in the end. The things we keep inside of ourselves, that grow out of us, that tell us who we are.” 11 likes
“She's got a way of making a man feel guilty for certain things he'd never feel bad about on his own, like watching someone shoot himself in the face.” 6 likes
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