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The Family Fang
by Kevin Wilson

Overview -

"The best single word description would be brilliant." -- Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art.  Read more...


 
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More About The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
 
 
 
Overview

"The best single word description would be brilliant." -- Ann Patchett, bestselling author of Bel Canto

Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art.

Their children called it mischief.

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance -- their magnum opus -- whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.

Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching.

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9780061579035
  • ISBN-10: 0061579033
  • Publisher: Ecco Press
  • Publish Date: August 2011
  • Page Count: 309


Related Categories

Books > Fiction > Family Life

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2011-04-04
  • Reviewer: Staff

Wilson's bizarre, mirthful debut novel (after his collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth) traces the genesis of the Fang family, art world darlings who make "strange and memorable things." That is, they instigate and record public chaos. In one piece, "The Portrait of a Lady, 1988," fragile nine-year-old Buster Fang dons a wig and sequined gown to undermine the Little Miss Crimson Clover beauty pageant, though he secretly desires the crown himself. In "A Modest Proposal, July 1988," Buster and his older sister, Annie, watch their father, Caleb, propose to mother, Camille, over an airliner's intercom and get turned down (" plane crash would have been welcomed to avoid the embarrassment of what had happened"). Over the years, more projects consume Child A and Child B—what art lovers (and their parents) call the children—but it is not until the parents disappear from an interstate rest stop that the lines separating art and life dissolve. Though leavened with humor, the closing chapters still face hard truths about family relationships, which often leave us, like the grown-up Buster and Annie, wondering if we are constructing our own lives, or merely taking part in others'. (Aug.)

 
BookPage Reviews

When chaos runs in the family

You could easily imagine that with all the hilarious—and, well, less than hilarious—antics of his fabulous fictional family Fang, Kevin Wilson might have some serious family issues of his own. You would be wrong. 

“I have incredible parents and I have a sister with whom I am very close,” Wilson says during a call to the “little cabin” in Sewanee, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife Leigh Anne, a poet, and their three-year-old son. Wilson, who recently turned 33, is the author of an award-winning story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. This fall he will become a full-time faculty member at The University of the South in Sewanee. Until then he will be “basically a secretary,” helping organize the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and teaching fiction-writing workshops.

Wilson’s parents live just a 20-minute drive down Monteagle mountain, where his father—whom he describes as “the most capable person” he’s ever known—sells insurance. “My parents didn’t really understand what I wanted to do when I wanted to write, but they were always supportive. My father was paying for me to go to this great school [Vanderbilt] in part because I was going to get a good job. When I told them I wanted to write, both of my parents said, ‘That’s what you should do.’ They just kind of embraced it. My father always reads everything I write.”

And his parents’ impressions of his first novel, The Family Fang? Or their thoughts about performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang, who sow chaos wherever they go—with the reluctant help of their children Buster and Annie (known in the art world as Child A and Child B)?

“They loved it! The characters of Camille and Caleb are so divorced from them that it was pretty much impossible for them to mistakenly read themselves into them,” Wilson says. “Sometimes I think they worry about being characters in my stories. But with this book I think it was so bizarre that they just didn’t worry about it.” 

The Family Fang is told from the alternating points of view of the older and perhaps wiser Buster and Annie, who woefully return as adults to live with their parents after a series of missteps. When their parents mysteriously disappear, Buster and Annie launch a skeptical search, more than half-believing that the disappearance is just another of their parents’ performance-art schemes. The setup allows Wilson to dazzle and amuse us with some very inventive and provocatively imagined performance art.

“I hesitate to say that I’m a fan of performance art because I know so little of it. But when I was in junior high or high school, I read about this guy who had someone shoot him for a performance piece, for an art piece! The way it was posited in the article was ‘isn’t this ridiculous, this is not real art, this is a kind of profanity.’ But I thought, this is the best art, this is the most incredible thing I can imagine. I was just so taken with the idea that art can bleed into the spaces where art is not supposed to enter.”

In this case, Wilson’s performance art pieces allow him to enter the deeply complicated spaces of family relationships.

“The thing that I most care about in writing is the ways in which we’re bound to these people who for all intents and purposes create you. They build you up, and the second step after they make you is that you unmake that and become your own person. I think that’s a really weird relationship.”

And so there is a startling point at which The Family Fang is suddenly something quite different from the satirical romp through the art world that it first appears to be.

“One of my strengths is humor. It’s easier for me to get into the darker stuff if I initially treat it as absurd. It gives me an entry point. One of the things I’ve always loved in the books or movies I admire is that moment when something funny shifts so quickly into sadness that you are laughing and you are crying. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s a magic trick. And it’s something I’ve tried to emulate. One of the things I want to do is make it light in a way that right up until the moment it becomes dark, you don’t notice how much light has disappeared from the story.”

Wilson continues, “I like the absurd, I like magical realism, I like fairy tales. When those things are done correctly, what is a dream and what is real bleeds into each other so much that you just cannot trust that yourself. I think those transformative moments when you are not sure what is reality are just wonderful. I’m very much interested in that kind of magic, where you’re amazed by the strangeness and weirdness of the world.”

The Family Fang. Magic indeed.

 

 
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