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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kevin Wilson tunnels to the center of human isolation

Ecco/Harper Perennial

In “Worst Case Scenario,” the final story in Kevin Wilson’s collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, the lovelorn narrator is hired out to parents and employers to enumerate the countless ways things can go wrong at the home or workplace. After informing a mother of all the misfortunes that could befall her infant, he becomes increasingly caught up with her distraught feelings. He eventually blames himself for violating the second rule in the company handbook, “Never form personal attachments to your clients.” Rule No. 1 states, “Remember, it only gets worse.”

Judging from Tunneling, Wilson's first book, the author generally subscribes to both rules, while giving himself a little leeway to stray. He seldom seems overly attached to his protagonists, offering clinical but persuasive portraits of alienated people who either seek emotional numbness, or have already attained it. And while Wilson’s tales often hinge on darkly comedic misfortunes, including spontaneous human combustion, a few reach upbeat conclusions or find cause for optimism.

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(Photo courtesy Ecco/Harper Perennial)

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