Kevin Wilson’s collection of eleven short stories was my first time reading him, and it turned out to be one of those books that I’d recommend to someone but I wouldn’t really want to read any of his other stuff. It’s impossible to generalize with how I felt about these stories, so I’ll review each one briefly.
Grand Stand-In: Wilson started strong with this one, which was hands down my favorite story in the series. An agency hires out stand-in grandparents for a variety of reasons. The ethics of it get murky fast, and I couldn’t shake the sense of creepiness in this one. I was sure this was going to be a five star book when it opened with this one. 5 stars
Blowing Up on the Spot: A young man who works in a Scrabble tile factory is caring for his suicidal younger brother after his parents both spontaneously combusted. It was alright. It was the only story that I had to refer back to to remember the ending. 3 stars
The Dead Sister Handbook: A Guide for Sensitive Boys: This one brought in a recurring theme throughout the book: not quite addressed sexual deviance. Several stories in this book were great at making the reader feel uncomfortable and hinting at something (incest, pedophilia, etc.) without really going there. This one was arranged interestingly but I just didn’t enjoy it. 2 stars
Birds in the House: A group of half Japanese/half redneck brothers convene on the family farm for an origami contest ordered by their mother’s will to determine the inheritance of her estate. It was not a page turner but it was kind of beautiful. 3.5 stars
Mortal Kombat: I won’t say too much about this one. The plot twist is revealed pretty early, but I didn’t quite see it coming and I don’t want to take that moment away from anyone else. I really liked this one. It was gritty and relatable and intense. 4.5 stars
Tunneling to the Center of the Earth: Ugh, this story. It brought out my inner “get off my lawn” curmudgeon. A few recent college graduates can’t deal with adulthood so they go digging tunnels underground instead. I guess there was a moral somewhere in this but for me it was about spoiled young adults and their first world problems. I hated everyone in it. 1.5 stars
The Shooting Man: A man convinces his very reluctant girlfriend to go with him to see a sideshow-esque circus act where a man somehow shoots himself in the head and then repeats the act the next night. The phrase “dawning horror” comes to mind with this one, but it works. 4 stars
The Choir Director Affair (The Baby’s Teeth): A man (I assume it’s a man?) becomes obsessed with his friend’s baby who was born with a full set of teeth. The friend is just obsessed with the woman he’s cheating on his wife with. The writing was interesting and the premise kind of was too but I just never understood the guy’s thing with this baby, at all, and it weirded me out in not a good way. 2 stars
Go, Fight, Win: A cheerleader with a Carrie vibe strikes up a weird friendship with the weird kid next door. Another one that makes you uncomfortable in a way that I just didn’t enjoy. 2 stars
The Museum of Whatnot: A woman curates in a museum full of people’s weird collections and has a weird courtship with a patron of said museum. The descriptions of people’s hoarded collections were interesting but this was the point in the book where I accepted once and for all that the problem with it is that there are almost no really likable characters. I don’t think I got through a chapter without thinking “What is wrong with you?” There were a lot of older parents who were supposed to come across as nagging, disconnected suburbanites and I found myself relating to them more often than not. Maybe that says more about me than the book. 3 stars
Worst-Case Scenario: A man with a degree in catastrophe calculates all the ways disaster could strike, which really takes a toll on his view of the world. For me, this last story summarized everything good and bad about this book. A barely off-kilter world with incredibly intriguing possibilities, a weird, unhappy, unlikable character, lovely prose, and an inexplicable relationship that doesn’t really ring true. 3.5 stars
This was not a bad book, but it wasn’t necessarily an enjoyable book. As a group, the short stories had a very cohesive mood. The entire book was surreal and melancholy with a sense of sluggish ennui. The writing was certainly not bad, it was simple and strange with a lot of moments of real beauty. The thing that prevented me from really enjoying it was (unfortunately) one of its defining traits: the surrealism. It worked for building just-slightly-askew worlds, but almost all of the characters’ actions were so sudden and strange that it was impossible to relate to their motivations. If it hadn’t started so strong I’m not sure I would’ve stayed with it.