These are the kind of exacting, emotionally pointed stories that may give the reader pause before sharing with a certain friend, out of fear it could hit too close to home. The versatile Wilson inspires tears and laughter, and crafts memorable phrases that may unexpectedly pop up in the reader’s mind weeks later. For instance in “Wildfire Johnny,” a one-eyed, orange-and-black tomcat leads Trey, a stoned 17-year-old, to a magic razor before the cat disappears, prompting the observation that Trey “felt the loss as keenly as if the animal had been his childhood pet and not some disease-ridden hell spawn of his imagination.”
In a bizarre premise, the razor gives Trey the ability to travel back in time, but only by using the tool in a gruesome, uncomfortable manner. Trey, who mostly leads a “charmed and easy life,” doesn’t use the razor until he makes a mistake that carries big enough consequences to risk killing himself over. Then he begins to use the enchanted object more freely. Despite the wacky setup, it becomes a story about white privilege, regrets and the results of one’s actions.
In “Scroll Through the Weapons,” an unmarried couple helps take care of young, wild relatives after the girlfriend’s sister gets arrested for stabbing her husband with a kebab skewer. Wilson paints a vivid scene of a dysfunctional family and chaotic household, one where a room seemed to swallow an emptied can of Febreeze whole. The boyfriend, initially freaked out by the scene, starts warming up to the children. He helps the eldest, angst-ridden kid defeat a zombie video game, which seems to buoy him into believing he and his girlfriend are invincible. “We would make every object a weapon that would protect us from anything that tried to convince us that we would not live forever in happiness.”
Drama series: Georgia-filmed "Stranger Things" (Netflix) Comedy series: Georgia-filmed "Atlanta" (FX) Lead actor in drama series: Jason Bateman for Georgia-filmed "Ozark" (Netflix) Lead actor in comedy series: Donald Glover for "Atlanta" (FX) Supporting actor in drama series: David Harbour for "Stranger Things" (Netflix) Supporting actress in drama series: Millie Bobby Brown for "Stranger Things" (Netflix) Supporting actor in comedy series: Brian Tyree Henry for "Atlanta" (FX) Supporting actress in comedy
“The Lost Baby” and “Sanders for a Night” both deal with how loss affects the remaining members of a family. In the former, a married couple’s baby is kidnapped and they struggle to cope with not knowing what happened, until a somewhat contrived development happens at the DeKalb County Public Library. The latter is a heart-wrenching tale of a boy who wants to dress as his dead brother for Halloween. His dad drinks to forget and his overworked mom “hated the fact that her grief, because it was quiet, because she worked hard to conceal it, was somehow less genuine.”
Reckless women helping to commit, or spitefully reciprocate, acts of adultery are at the forefront of “A Visit” and “No Joke, This is Going to Be Painful.”
In the collection’s title story, a mom’s boundary-crossing son returns home after his rock band’s equipment gets stolen from their van after a concert. A few tender moments are juxtaposed against bitterly dark ones: her son contorting his body as if kicking a heroin habit in the car; the mom justifying her son’s dark lyrics because “kindness always mutated just slightly inside him and came out wrong”; the memory of him slicing a mirror shard across his cheek as a 4-year-old. As in the rest of the stories, it’s the eerie details, intense moments and vivid scenes woven throughout the larger story that makes it unforgettable.
‘Baby You’re Gonna Be Mine’
By Kevin Wilson
288 pages, $26.99