Ten familial short fictions from the fertile mind of Wilson (Perfect Little World, 2017, etc.).
Wilson triumphantly returns to short stories, the medium of his first book, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009), ruminating once more on grief, adolescence, and what it means to be a family. The opener, “Scrolling Through the Weapons,” finds a guy and his girlfriend looking after some nearly feral nieces and nephews. The tricky bond between father and son is revisited in the stark “Housewarming.” A wife and mother who returns to her childhood home after her 82-year-old mother is assaulted makes a plethora of bad decisions in “A Visit.” Grief and regret run hand in hand in “Sanders for a Night,” in which a boy wants to cosplay as his dead brother, and the title story, in which a failing rock star takes advantage of his mother’s generous nature. There’s a rare misfire in the collection-ending “The Lost Baby,” which plays out as advertised, including a puzzling, ambiguous ending. But the book’s three portraits of young people are mesmerizing. In the collection’s best story, “Wildfire Johnny,” Wilson counterintuitively explores the nature of male maturity, cloaked in a horror story about a mystical razor that allows the user to travel back in time—if they slash their own throat. In “No Joke, This Is Going to Be Painful,” a restless young woman stuck in her small town finds redemption in pain: “We called them ice fights. They made things weird for a little while.” Finally, Wilson captures the insanity of adolescence in “The Horror We Made,” in which a bunch of teenage girls jacked up on Adderall, weed, and diet pills make a horror movie during a sleepover. One true confession within: “Every time I think I might not be friends with you guys anymore…I remember that I love shit like this and no one else would do it with me.”
Evocative, compassionate, and exquisitely composed stories about the human condition.