March 6, 2020: “Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine” by Kevin Wilson

Happy Friday, Story366!

Welcome to Day 4 of No-AWP! I continue to see wonderful posts from friends on social media, all of them smiling, congregating, and having a good time. This makes my heart absolutely sing, to see friends enjoying themselves in that particular setting. Of course, it still stings, me being here in Missouri, giving up a complete year of AWP, which actually means two years between AWPs. That’s mean, worst of all, it’ll be two years between seeing friends, those people I only see once a year but who seem like way better friends than that. That’s what this writing world is, what makes it so endearing to me, despite all the negatives, the waiting and the rejections. I love the people in this world, miss them this week, and am glad to see so many of them having fun.

Tonight in Springfield, I held Sprinfield AWP, asking the students and faculty who were supposed to travel to San Antonio to go out for a drink, talk about writing, our weeks, and if we wanted to, not going to the conference. I really should have done this as soon as we cancelled on Monday, as I had a feeling people would make other plans before I knew it. Sure enough, only a few students showed up. Still, we had a really excellent time, just talking, mostly me telling stories about past AWPs, crazy things I’d done and had seen. I have an endless line of those stories, more than enough to cover a couple of drinks, and the students seemed excited. I don’t really go out with students much, so this was a nice diversion, a way to bond a bit with these select few who I would have really gotten to know, all those hours in the van, all those shared experiences.

Today I read from Kevin Wilson‘s 2018 collection Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine, out from Ecco Books. I’ve been a fan of Wilson’s for as long as I can remember. I ran a couple of stories in Mid-American Review, and like with Ben Percy earlier this week, I wrote a post on Wilson’s “Tunnelling to the Center of the Earth” on the Emerging Writer’s Network,  a post that would become the inspiration and models for Story366. Funny that I’d never covered either author, Percy or Wilson, until this week, then covered both of them four days apart. That’s just what Story366 does.

Needless to say, I’m a fan of Wilson’s work, including his novels, and I rarely read novels. Something about his prose, his characters, his stories, all of it pulls me in, keeps me there. I’m always eager to eat up whatever he puts out. Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine is no exception, and I had to pretty much force myself to quit reading after four stories so I could get this post up . I started with the opening story, “Scroll Through the Weapons,” about a guy who find himself taking care of a bunch of dirty, wild kids when his girlfriend’s sister stabs her husband, leaving no one else to to watch them. I like this story a whole lot, especially Wilson’s description of the dirty hellhole that is the sister’s house, how one family can destroy a homestead so thoroughly, so imaginitively. I skipped around a lot for some reason, next reading “No Joke, This Is Going to Be Painful,” about a woman who gets fired from her job and has to move in with her sister, then proceeds to ruin the lives of everyone she comes in contact with. Such a great character, this walking disaster of a person, to see how she can destroy so much and not care at all. I also read “Sanders for a Night,” about a woman whose kid wants to dress up as his dead brother for Halloween. All of these stories are about people dealing with domestic disasters of various kinds, something Wilson is very familiar with and good at, given that this umbrellas a great deal of his catalogue. I particularly enjoy how detailed he gets when chronicling these situations, how far he’ll take his characters into depravity and disarray, as that’s where the better stories lie. He’s no sadist, though, as he always fashions these potential monsters into people, characters we want to watch, even if it would be tough to know them.

“Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine” is less of a domestic crisis than these other three stories, but still focuses on family, is set primarily in a home. The story is about Gina, the mom of an indie rock story whose band has just broken up, who needs to come home and lick his wounds. Adam, the son, is the lead singer of Dead Finches, a band that put out their own albums, toured, got signed by Sub Pop, and eventually had their biggest hit used in a beer commercial during a Super Bowl. They made a lot of money, but blew it all, and at the outset of their most recent tour, had all their gear stolen. Adam decided to call it quits, turning tail and retreating to Gina, who is happy to have her son home, though nervous about what that will mean for her privacy: She’s lived alone for the three years since her husband died and isn’t sure what to expect from Adam’s sudden return.

Adam is a broken man, but also a bit of a drama queen, spend long hours, his first week home, crying in the bathroom. Gina hears him and tries, at first, to comfort him, then gives him his space, letting him go through what he’s got to go through. Eventually, Adam—whom she calls “Peanut”—needs money, and Gina wants him to get a job. Adam has never had a job before, nothing aside from music, so he’s hesitant. He also, by the way, did a bunch of coke he found in his duffel bag, coke that wasn’t his, claiming he just needed a pick-me-up, something to get him over his band disbanding. Gina doesn’t want him doing hard, illegal drugs in her house, but she also knows that her son is depressed, an adult, and a rock star, someone who has done things she can only wince at in speculation. He’s also sleeping on a pull-out in the office, where she usually plays computer solitaire—Adam is going to take some getting used to.

Adam has to adjust as well, as he’s soon out of money and borrowing from Gina, who doesn’t have any to give. Gina pulls some strings and gets Adam hired by a friend’s son, who runs a landscaping business. Adam doesn’t want to do it—it seems hard and he’s afraid the other guys are going to pick on him for being soft—but at the end of his first day, Gina watches Adam get dropped off, the boss putting money in his hand, and Adam coming inside and paying her back some of the money he owes her. Even his crying jag that night is short. Adam seems to be adjusting to life as a normal person, and Gina is adjusting to Adam

Of course, things have to go awry—this is a story, after all—and Adam is soon going out drinking with his work buddies, not coming home after work. Gina calls him a bunch and considers driving around to look for him, then remembers he’s not 16, but 36. She goes to bed, not falling asleep, too worried. Things only get worse when Adam comes home very late and has loud sex with a woman in his room, Gina putting the pillow over her head so she doesn’t have to hear the squeaking of the pull-out bed.

The next morning provides my favorite scene in the story, as Adam has to get up for at 6:30 and Gina has to shame him into going, Adam thinking he’d just quit and sleep off the bender. All this is happening with a mostly naked young woman sitting there and watching. Adam trudges out of the house, while Gina realizes the young woman with whom her son had drunk sex is still there. I love that Gina makes her, Tina, breakfast, and the two chat. Tina’s pretty straightforward, describing how it was her twenty-first birthday and she slept with Adam—knowing he was a rock star—more or less as a present to herself. She then thanks Gina, tells her she’ll likely never see her again, and is on her way. Gina is too shocked to do much else besides wait for Adam to come home.

This has gotten us pretty deep into the story, and I won’t reveal anything else here. The tide turns for Adam, however, and Gina, used to having her son back, has to deal with this new twist as much as she had to deal with his return. Wilson nails the ending, making this the story it needed to be, making it great.

I enjoyed all of the stories I read in Baby, You’re Gonna Be Mine. Kevin Wilson’s easy prose and compelling conflicts make reading his books enjoyable, even addictive. Meeting all these characters, seeing them hash out their problems, see them make mistakes and then make up for them, all of it resulting in some damn good fiction. Easy to recommend this one when I know I’ll go back and read the rest, see what other gems lie in store.