What We’re Reading: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

 “Art, if you loved it, was worth any amount of unhappiness and pain.”–Caleb and Camille Fang

The cover of Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang proudly displays a quote from bestselling author Ann Patchett: “The Family Fang is a comedy, a tragedy, and a tour-de-force examination of what it means to make art and survive your family. Like everything else Kevin Wilson does, I have never seen anything like it before. The best single-word description would be genius.”

When a co-worker offered me a galley of this title to read a few months ago, I was a little suspicious after reading this quote. Sure, I’d heard excited whisperings about this title, but genius? Really? After devouring this debut novel from cover to cover late one evening, Ann Patchett and I are in agreement: Kevin Wilson is utterly brilliant.

The Family Fang is a strange, hilarious, smart story featuring an eccentric family reminiscent of those in The Royal Tenenbaums and Little Miss Sunshine. Meet the Family Fang: Annie and Buster, better known as Child A and Child B, who have grown up in a household that can only be nonjudgementally described as “unique.” Their parents, Caleb and Camille, are renowned avant-garde performance artists (winning the MacArthur Prize, among other notable awards).

Using the Fang performance pieces as vignettes interspersed throughout the novel, Wilson leads you wide-eyed down the rabbit hole of family dysfunction. The Fang parents are entirely devoted to their art, so much so that their subversive genius requires their children to be the main characters in their performance pieces. The most hilarious scene in the book (made even funnier by Wilson reading it in person with his soft Tennessee accent, which I had the pleasure of hearing recently) involves teenagers Annie and Buster in an incestuous production of Romeo and Juliet. I’m going to leave the rest of it up to your imagination, but needless to say, that’s when Child A and Child B take a firm stand against their parents’ blind devotion to art.

Years later, Annie is a well-known actress (I hope you find this to be a little ironic, as I did) and Buster is a writer for Potent magazine. Their lives start crumbling around them (naked photos of Annie from a film set are an Internet sensation and Buster is shot in the face with a potato gun), so they reluctantly return to the one place they can: the Fang family home. I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say that all these years later, the Fang parents still have one last doozy of a performance piece left in them.

Media, booksellers, and readers nationwide all are in love with this debut novel. NPR’s Terry Gross raved, “It’s such a minty fresh delight to open up Kevin Wilson’s debut novel, The Family Fang, and feel the revitalizing blast of original thought, robust invention, screwball giddiness.” Janet Maslin at the New York Times enthused, “The Family Fang packs a wallop” and Entertainment Weekly compared Wilson to “the studied quirkiness of George Saunders or filmmaker Wes Anderson.” The Boston Globe praised it, saying “Wilson’s writing has a Houdini-like perfection, wherein no matter how grim the variables, each lovely sentence manages to escape with all its parts intact…Wilson keeps his plot moving swiftly enough to keep readers absorbed. And those sentences are really something.”

So if you’re in the mood for an entrancing, original, and exciting read, pick up Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang. As the New York Journal of Books declared, “The Family Fang is the sort of perfectly idiosyncratic thing that comes along only ever so often.”

 — Kelly Bowen, Publicity Manager

One Comment On This Post:

October 17, 2011
10:01 am
Life as Art: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson « Bay State Reader's Advisory: Reading Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian says...

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