For a small town Southern boy, Kevin Wilson is doing pretty good for himself. The fervor over his last novel, The Family Fang, had barely had a moment to die down before he announced his followup in Perfect Little World. Whereas the former was met by an unsuspecting audience that soon rewarded it a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list as well as the top spot on multiple Best Book of the Year lists, now Wilson must contend with the expectations that success breeds.
Perfect Little World expands on Wilson’s familiar theme of family with the story of Isabelle Poole, a recent high school grad who finds herself pregnant, with no support net under her and little hope for the future. When she is introduced to the concept of The Infinite Family Project, a utopian society based around children being raised by a collective community of parents funded by an eccentric billionaire, she quickly signs on. Things go smoothly for a while…then not so smoothly.
We had a chance to talk to Mr. Wilson before his stop tonight at The Regulator Bookshop in Durham tonight at 7:00pm. Among the topics discussed are: what does family even mean; the pressures that come after success for a novelist; and the South.
Isaac Weeks: Reading your work, it’s difficult to find one of your pieces that doesn’t involve the South in some way. Since you and your family live in Tennessee, is this just a “write what you know” deal, or is it that you feel the characters you create just would have a connection to the South?
Kevin Wilson: I’ve lived almost my entire life within the same county in Tennessee, so part of it is that this is just the landscape that I know, and it feels familiar to me. When its time to base a character somewhere, it just makes sense to place them in this space. Also, I definitely think of myself as a Southerner, but my wife is from Atlanta and I’m from a small town in Tennessee. While both of those places are in the South, they couldn’t be more different from each other. With that in mind, I actually see myself as more of a rural writer. One of the things about living in a rural space is that you don’t have the same level of access that larger cities do, so for some characters that provides an obstacle when there is something that they need or want. For me, a rural setting is very important to the stories I tell.
IW: Being a fan of both your earlier story collections as well as your last two novels, it’s hard to miss that you seem to have a fascination with family dynamics. What is it about familial relationships that keeps inspiring you?
KW: I spent most of my early life trying to figure out what it meant to be part of a family; to be a kid and have these people taking care of you, and spending so much of your time with them and then slowly becoming your own person with your own identity. The flip side of that is having kids, where I’m now experiencing it from the other side of raising these people, and keeping them safe and protected, while the entire time they’re getting older and separating from you. Family is what I most care about. I think its just a really strange dynamic, and its something that I think about a lot, so it just bleeds into my work. I’m always just thinking, “What does it mean to be part of a family, and what are all of the different ways that families function?”
IW: Has being a parent affected your work? I know Perfect Little World deals with a wide variety of parental types.
KW: I think if you look at all of my work, and knowing that today my two kids are nine and four…The Family Fang is a different book, in that it is a bit funnier, and the people in it are a bit more absurd but also more mean-spirited or damaged. Now, I think one of the things that having kids does is it opens you up more to the world, makes you a bit more empathetic. In this book, I think its clear that its a less silly, less absurd story. It’s more about people that I really cared about, people that I really felt sympathy for, so I wanted to do right by them. So yeah, having kids forces you to realize how connected you are to other people in the world.
IW: Unless something changes, it looks like the two Triangle stops you have this week are the last stops on your current book tour. Now that you are at the end of it, have you felt more pressure promoting this compared to other works, coming off the success of The Family Fang?
KW: The publisher has put its faith in me by publishing a second book, so you want to reward them for that; you want to at least measure up to the last book. That’s why a book tour can be a good barometer of the current book; you’re around people who are reading the book, you meet the book sellers. That’s the most important thing for me, as independent book stores are integral to an author’s career, so when you get to see these awesome book stores that are still open and are a major part of their cities…I am just trying to enjoy it, because the fact that they are sending me anywhere at all is awesome. In this day and age there isn’t the same budget there used to be for these tours.