“Don’t be surprised if this becomes one of the most discussed novels of the year.”
“Kevin Wilson introduces THE FAMILY FANG, a winningly bizarre clan on the brink.”
“The premise of this book is so perfect I can’t believe it hasn’t been done before …a hugely likable book -funny, colorful, and memorable, if not beautiful and strange…I read this book swiftly and compulsively, like sipping thirstily at a fruity cocktail on a hot summer evening.”
“[FAMILY FANG] allows Wilson to dazzle and amuse us with some very inventive and provocatively imagined performance art.”
” [A] revitalizing blast of original thought; robust invention; screwball giddiness.... a family story that’s out-of-the-box, and funny, and, also, genuinely moving. Wilson’s inventive genius never stops for a rest break.... [a] strange and wonderful novel...that will linger in your mind long after.”
Christian Science Monitor
“The Family Fang [is] at times is reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s quirky, R-rated comedy, The Royal Tenanbaums, without losing its arch originality.”
Art in America
“A highly engaging and imaginative first novel…Wilson has a gift for characterization and dialogue.”
Los Angeles Magazine
“The kids are not all right in this debut novel about a brother and sister poorly navigating the bizarre world of their parents — obsessive performance artists who force their children to participate in their kooky pieces.”
“Irresistible…This strange novel deserves to be very successful…. Wilson’s trim and intriguing narrative [captures] the selling out of one’s life and children for the sake of notoriety…. I’d love to be able to see Annie’s movies and read Buster’s books, but I’ll settle for being Wilson’s fan instead.”
“Wilson writes with the studied quirkiness of George Saunders or filmmaker Wes Anderson, and there’s some genuine warmth beneath all the surface eccentricity.”
“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.”
New York Post
“This is not another novel about an educated upper-middle-class family wracked with dysfunction beneath the surface. Ma and Pa Fang, Camille and Caleb, are oddballs for all to see.”
Wall Street Journal
“Inventive and hilarious. This is complex psychological ground, and the 32-year-old Mr. Wilson navigates it with a calm experience that his tender age shouldn’t allow.”
Los Angeles Times Magazine
“Great art is difficult, Caleb Fang likes to say, but with this wonder of a first novel, Kevin Wilson makes it look easy.”
“[A] wildly original new novel… bizarre, unique, unerringly comic, breathtakingly wonderful.... It’s the sort of book you love so much you want to compose sonnets in its name….If The Family Fang is any indication, [Wilson’s] got a long and productive career ahead, one we will enjoy immensely.”
“Funny and fast-paced, Kevin Wilson’s debut brims with just-so observations about the anxiety of influence, parental and artistic.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer
“With his debut story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, Kevin Wilson demonstrated that he traffics in weirdness. His stories find space between plausibility and absurdity, and their strange plots have an easy pull. Wilson’s enjoyable first novel, The Family Fang, offers similar pleasures…”
Time Out Chicago
“Wilson’s wheelhouse is whimsy, and as in his story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, his characters’ quirks are both metaphors for and products of various larger maladies.”
Time Out New York
“[Wilson’s] imagination shines as he concocts the book’s many detailed pieces of art—from Camille’s darkly disturbed paintings to Annie’s film project about children who spontaneously combust—and playfully describes them…. The Family Fang is fun, and nothing other than exactly what Wilson wants it to be.”
“…deliciously odd, delightfully unhinged and surprisingly warm-hearted…this year’s book to read.”
“Something so calculated, so choreographed, so wickedly comic should feel fake. But oddly enough, as Annie and Buster stagger about in the warped but jaunty confines of The Family Fang... they gradually become so real you want to call them up and give them your therapist’s number.”
Dallas Morning News
“[A] big-hearted and endlessly strange look into a family of artists…. With humor and adoration, Wilson... deftly realiz[es] each character’s emotional capacities and motivations....[A] taut and marvelously entertaining book.”
“The Family Fang is a delicious book by a stunningly nimble writer. It never fails to entertain, but at the same time raises serious questions about art, interpretation, child-rearing, privacy, publicity and leaving home. I can’t wait to read what Kevin Wilson writes next.”
“Wilson’s widely praised novel about performance artists gives a whole new meaning to the term dysfunctional family and may just leave you thinking more fondly of your own relatives in time for those summertime family reunions.”
“[B]rilliant…a well-plotted and intriguing story…intricate and funny...Wilson probes art by constructing art.”
“Literary fiction can be so straight-laced and serious that reading The Family Fang feels like sneaking a treat: here is a well-written, intelligent, and involving novel that’s also tremendously fun.”
“Beneath the surface of the fun and fast-paced The Family Fang, Wilson explores self-identity and families in the context of life lived as art… [A] well-crafted novel that examines what happens to a family when the line between art and life is erased.”
“The comparisons of Wilson to other writers says less about his work than it does about our desire to understand his imagination. In simple terms, he is very funny, generous to all his characters, and the author of books you feel an immediate urge to reread.”
“A proud descendant of the Sycamores in Kaufman and Hart’s You Can’t Take It With You....[T]he poignant truth...beneath the humor of this peculiar family: Our crazy parents’ offenses sometimes loom so large that we don’t realize just what they did for us until it’s too late.”
“Funny and off-kilter….What could devolve into little more than slapstick becomes, in Wilson’s skilled hands and, let’s face it, somewhat strange imagination, a rich and textured read. He brings us to the brink of absurdity, then turns on a dime and delivers a deeper, darker novel.”
“A wacky, wonderful debut about a performance artist couple and their long suffering kids.”
the Oprah Magazine O
“What can you say for a novel about performance artists that begins “Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief”? ... That it’s totally weird, and pretty wonderful. Most of all, that it manages to be brainy without sacrificing heart.”
O: the Oprah Magazine
“What can you say for a novel about performance artists that begins “Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief”? ... That it’s totally weird, and pretty wonderful. Most of all, that it manages to be brainy without sacrificing heart.”
“My favourite novel so far this year: Kevin Wilson’s THE FAMILY FANG. Funny, smart, ingenious, moving, altogether great. Just buy it.”
“[Wilson] has created a memorable shorthand for describing parent-child deceptions and for ways in which creative art and destructive behavior intersect. But he never generalizes.... Whenever this book refers to “a Fang thing,” Mr. Wilson is utterly clear about what that means.”
The Must List
“Wilson’s creative and funny novel examines two young lives in the process of getting skewed, all in the pursuit of art with a capital A.”
“Wilson, who drew comparisons to Shirley Jackson with his 2009 story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, brilliantly and hilariously explores the “art for art’s sake” argument.”
“If I could marry a book, this would be the one.”
“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.”
“It’s The Royal Tenenbaums meets Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? I’d call The Family Fang a guilty pleasure, but it’s too damn smart. Here, finally, is a much needed reminder that astute fiction can still be a total blast.”
“Wilson commands the cavalry riding around the vastly important Army of the Loopy... rides slashing from the Implausible to the Plausible, and from there quickly to the Necessary and on to the True. The Family Fang will appear Coenized out of Hollywood but you should catch them here first.”
“Each page feels like unearthing a discovery. This is the kind of novel you fall in love with: tender-hearted, wonder-filled, a world all its own.... Wilson is such [a] talent, so rare and beautiful and big.”
Top 10 Books of 2011 People
“[A] delightfully quirky novel…completely relatable.”
10 Best Books of 2011 Esquire
“Wilson writes stylishly...but his real skill is...building up a slow-drip mystery....And [this] isn’t the kind of book you [can] set aside....(I’m looking at you, Swamplandia!) It’s the kind of book in which you need to know what happens...It’s not what you think.”
Booklist Top Ten First Novels of 2011
“First-time novelist Wilson mixes dire humor and melancholy in this satirical portrait of the uniquely dysfunctional Fangs––husband-and-wife performance artists Caleb and Camille and their children, Annie and Buster—and offers a scathing critique of how the baby-boom generation maltreated Gen X.”
Ann Patchett's Favorite Books of 2011 on Salon.com
“This book was my favorite for the sheer force of its creativity… powerful, funny and deeply strange. You won’t read anything else like it.”
…a delightfully odd story about the adult children of a pair of avant-garde performance artists…Wilson has an infectious fondness for the ridiculous and a good ear for muffled exasperation.
The Washington Post
Discover Great New Writers
They grew up as Child A and Child B, the daughter and son of acclaimed performance artists Camille and Caleb Fang, reluctant participants in their parents' odd brand of unscripted public art. Now grown, Annie and Buster Fang find themselves back home—damaged, confused, embarrassed, angry, and also, possibly, involuntary actors in their parents' most stunning artistic event.
Can we ever break free from our parents? And when it comes down to it, do we really want to?
Heady questions, but they've never been so much fun to answer as they are in Wilson's smart, funny new novel, The Family Fang. Skillfully interspersing scenes from A and B's childhood with a present-day story line, Wilson shows what it's like to grow up with parents whose idea of "art" is concocting and documenting public disturbances. Now with their childhood ending, it's time for Annie and Buster to figure out what it all meant.
Winner of the 2009 Shirley Jackson Award for his short-story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, Wilson demonstrates his versatility with this impressive debut novel. You'll enjoy The Family Fang from its surprising beginning to its satisfying, deeply moving conclusion, and you'll no doubt look for more from this fresh and talented writer.
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.)
10 Best Books of 2011 - Esquire
"Wilson writes stylishly...but his real skill is...building up a slow-drip mystery....And [this] isn’t the kind of book you [can] set aside....(I’m looking at you, Swamplandia!) It’s the kind of book in which you need to know what happens...It’s not what you think."
Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists who set up unsettling situations in public places. Their two children, Annie and Buster, have been trained from birth to participate in these events. As they mature the children realize that their lives are not exactly normal. Their attempts to break away from their parents are unsuccessful until their parents disappear. Is it a stunt or a tragic accident? Even Annie and Buster can't say for sure. VERDICT Wilson, who won the 2009 Shirley Jackson Award for his story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, tells his madcap story with straight-faced aplomb, highlighting the tricky intersection of family life and artistic endeavor. All fiction readers will enjoy this comic/tragic look at domesticity. Recommended.—Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Libs., Kingston
Top 10 Books of 2011 - People Magazine
"A wacky, wonderful debut about a performance artist couple and their long suffering kids."
"Irresistible…This strange novel deserves to be very successful…. Wilson’s trim and intriguing narrative [captures] the selling out of one’s life and children for the sake of notoriety…. I’d love to be able to see Annie’s movies and read Buster’s books, but I’ll settle for being Wilson’s fan instead."
Ann Patchett's Favorite Books of 2011 - Salon.com
"This book was my favorite for the sheer force of its creativity… powerful, funny and deeply strange. You won’t read anything else like it."
The grown children of a couple infamous for their ostentatious performance art are forced to examine their own creativity and flaws in the shadow of their unusual upbringing.
In this first novel, Wilson (stories: Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, 2009) turns his attention to a subversive family of artists. In fact, his titular subjects are so dedicated to their art that, whether they know it or not, they're perpetually in the midst of an emerging improvisation. The so-called mentors in this little play are Caleb and Camille Fang, two performance artists whose dedication to their craft is largely lost on their children Annie and Buster. "Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief," the opening lines proclaim. But what sounds like all sorts of fun to the parents—a particularly acid stunt on a childhood vacation involves Mr. Fang proposing to Mrs. Fang on the inbound airplane, soliciting many happy returns from fellow passengers and then ruining the return flight with a cheerless reversal—has long-term consequences on the kids. The novel flashes back and forth between Annie and Buster's roller-coaster ride of a childhood (one example: the Fangs manipulating the adolescent Buster and Annie into playing the leads in a school production of Romeo and Juliet), and their odd half-life as adults. Annie has become an emerging movie star. When a role demands full-frontal nudity, she acts out with such outrageousness that she becomes tabloid fodder. When Buster, a once-successful writer, is injured during an ill-chosen freelance assignment, he finds himself with no other choice but to return to the family fold. The subtlety of the comedy is flawless, channeling the filmmaking of Wes Anderson or Rian Johnson.
A fantastic first novel that asks if the kids are alright, finding answers in the most unexpected places.
Read an Excerpt
As soon as Annie walked onto the set, someone informed her that she would need to take her top off.
"Excuse me?" Annie said.
"Yeah," the woman continued, "we're gonna be shooting this one with no shirt on."
"Who are you?" Annie asked.
"I'm Janey," the woman said.
"No," Annie said, feeling as if maybe she had walked onto the wrong set. "What is your job on the movie?"
Janey frowned. "I'm the script supervisor. We've talked several times. Remember, a few days ago I was telling you about the time my uncle tried to kiss me?"
Annie did not remember this at all. "So, you supervise the script?" Annie asked.
Janey nodded, smiling.
"My copy of the script does not mention nudity for this scene."
"Well," Janey said. "It's kind of open-ended, I think. It's a judgment call."
"Nobody said anything when we rehearsed it," Annie said.
Janey simply shrugged.
"And Freeman said I'm supposed to take my top off?" Annie asked.
"Oh yeah," Janey said. "First thing this morning, he comes over to me and says, ‘Tell Annie that she needs to be topless in the next shot.'"
"Where is Freeman right now?"
Janey looked around. "He said he was going to find someone to procure a very specific kind of sandwich."
Annie walked into an empty stall in the bathroom and called her agent. "They want me to get naked," she said. "Absolutely not," said Tommy, her agent. "You're nearly an A-list actress; you cannot do full-frontal nudity." Annie clarified that it wasn't full frontal but a topless scene. There was a pause on the other end of the line. "Oh, well that's not so bad," Tommy said.
"It wasn't in the script," Annie said.
"Lots of things that aren't in the script turn up in movies," said Tommy. "I remember a story about this movie where an extra in the background has his dick hanging out of his pants."
"Yes," Annie replied. "To the detriment of the movie."
"In that case, yes," Tommy answered.
"So, I'm going to say that I'm not going to do it."
Her agent once again paused. In the background, she thought she could hear the sounds of a video game being played.
"That would not be a good idea. This could be an Oscar-winning role and you want to make waves?"
"You think this is an Oscar-winning role?" Annie asked.
"It depends on how strong the other contenders are next year," he answered. "It's looking like a thin year for women's roles, so, yeah, it could happen. Don't go by me, though. I didn't think you'd get nominated for Date Due and look what happened."
"Okay," Annie said.
"My gut feeling is to take off your top and maybe it'll only be in the director's cut," her agent said.
"That is not my gut feeling," Annie replied.
"Fair enough, but nobody likes a difficult actor."
"I better go," Annie said.
"Besides, you have a great body," Tommy said just as Annie hung up on him.
She tried to call Lucy Wayne, who had directed her in Date Due, for which Annie had been nominated for an Oscar; she had played a shy, drug-addicted librarian who gets involved with skinheads, with tragic results. It was a movie that did not summarize well, Annie knew this, but it had jumpstarted her career. She trusted Lucy, had felt during the entire shoot that she was in capable hands; if Lucy had told her to take her top off, she would not have questioned it.
Of course, Lucy did not answer her phone and Annie felt that this was the kind of situation that did not translate well to a voice mail message. Her one steady, calming influence was out of range and so she had to make do with the options that were left to her.
Her parents thought it was a great idea. "I think you should go completely nude," her mother said. "Why only the top?" Annie heard her father yell in the background, "Tell them you'll do it if the male lead takes off his pants."
"He's right, you know," her mother said. "Female nudity isn't controversial anymore. Tell the director that he needs to film a penis if he wants to get a reaction."
"Okay, I'm beginning to think that you don't understand the problem," Annie said.
"What's the problem, honey?" her mother asked.
"I don't want to take my top off. I don't want to take my pants off. I definitely don't want Ethan to take his pants off. I want to film the scene the way we rehearsed it."
"Well, that sounds pretty boring to me," her mother said.
"That does not surprise me," Annie said and once again hung up the phone thinking that she had chosen to surround herself with people who were, for lack of a better term, retarded.
A voice from the next stall said, "If I were you, I'd tell them to give me an extra hundred thousand bucks to show my tits."
"That's nice," Annie said. "Thanks for the advice."
When she called her brother, Buster said that she should climb out the window of the bathroom and run away, which was his solution to most problems. "Just get the hell out of there before they talk you into doing something that you don't want to do," he said.
"I mean, I'm not crazy, right? This is weird?" Annie asked.
"It's weird," Buster reassured her.
"No one says a thing about nudity and then, the day of the shoot, I'm supposed to take off my top?" she said.
"It's weird," Buster said again. "It's not totally surprising, but it's weird."
"It's not surprising?"
"I remember hearing that on Freeman Sanders's first movie, he filmed an improvised scene where some actress gets humped by a dog, but it got cut out of the movie."
"I never heard that," Annie said.
"Well, I doubt it's something that Freeman would bring up in meetings with you," Buster responded.
"So what should I do?" Annie asked.
"Get the hell out of there," Buster shouted.
"I can't just leave, Buster. I have contractual obligations. It's a good movie, I think. It's a good part, at least. I'll just tell them I'm not going to do the scene."
A voice from outside the stall, Freeman's voice, said, "You're not going to do the scene?"
"Who the hell was that?" Buster asked.
"I better go," Annie said.
When she opened the door, Freeman was leaning against a sink, eating a sandwich that looked like three sandwiches stacked on top of each other. He was wearing his standard uniform: a black suit and tie with a wrinkled white dress shirt, sunglasses, and ratty old sneakers with no socks. "What's the problem?" he said.
"How long have you been out here?" Annie asked.
"Not long," he said. "The continuity girl said you were in the bathroom and people were starting to wonder if you were just scared about taking off your top or if you were in here doing coke. I thought I'd come in and find out."
"Well, I'm not doing coke."
"I'm a little disappointed," he said.
"I'm not going to take my top off, Freeman," she said.
Freeman looked around for a place to set his sandwich and, apparently realizing he was in a public restroom, opted to hold onto it. "Okay, okay," he said. "I'm just the director and writer; what do I know?"
"It doesn't make any sense," Annie yelled. "Some guy I've never met before comes by my apartment and I just stand there with my tits out?"
"I don't have time to explain the complexities of it to you," Freeman said. "Basically, it's about control and Gina would want to control the situation. And this is how she would do it."
"I'm not going to take off my top, Freeman."
"If you don't want to be a real actor, you should keep doing superhero movies and chick flicks."
"Go to hell," Annie said and then pushed past him and walked out of the restroom.
She found her co-star, Ethan, enunciating his lines with great exaggeration, pacing in a tight circle. "Did you hear about this?" she asked him. He nodded. "And?" she said. "I have some advice," he said. "What I would do is think of the situation in such a way that you weren't an actress being asked to take off her top, but rather an actress playing an actress being asked to take off her top."
"Okay," she said, resisting the urge to punch him into unconsciousness.
"See," he continued, "it adds that extra layer of unreality that I think will actually make for a more complicated and interesting performance."
Before she could respond, the first assistant director, shooting schedule in hand, walked over to them. "How are we doing vis-à-vis you doing this next shot without a shirt on?" he asked her.
"Not happening," Annie said.
"Well, that's disappointing," he responded.
"I'll be in my trailer," she said.
"Waiting on talent," the A.D. shouted as Annie walked off the set.
The worst movie she'd ever been a part of, one of her first roles, was called Pie in the Sky When You Die, about a private detective who investigates a murder at a pie-eating contest during the county fair. When she read the script, she had assumed it was a comedy, and was shocked to learn that, with lines like "I guess I'll be the one eating humble pie," and "You'll find that I'm not as easy as pie," it was actually a serious crime drama. "It's like Murder on the Orient Express," the screenwriter told Annie during a read through, "but instead of a train, it's got pie."
On the first day of shooting, one of the lead actors got food poisoning during the pie-eating contest and dropped out of the movie. A pig from the petting zoo broke out of its pen and destroyed a good deal of the recording equipment. Fifteen takes of a particularly difficult scene were shot with a camera that had no film in it. For Annie, it was a bizarre, unreal experience, watching something fall apart as you touched it. Halfway through the movie, the director told Annie that she would need to wear contacts that changed her blue eyes to green. "This movie needs flashes of green, something to catch the viewer's eye," he told her. "But we're halfway into the movie," Annie said. "Right," the director replied. "We're only halfway into the movie."
One of Annie's co-stars was Raven Kelly, who had been a femme fatale in several classic noir movies. On the set, Raven, seventy years old, never seemed to consult the script, did crossword puzzles during rehearsals, and stole every single scene. While they were side by side getting their makeup done, Annie asked her how she could stand working on this movie. "It's a job," Raven had said. "I do what will pay, whatever it is. You do your best, but sometimes the movie just isn't very good. No big loss. Still pays. I never understood artists, and I couldn't care less about craft and method and all that stuff. You stand where they tell you to stand, say your lines, and go home. It's just acting." The makeup artists continued to apply makeup so that Annie appeared younger and Raven appeared older. "But do you enjoy it?" Annie asked. Raven stared at Annie's reflection in the mirror. "I don't hate it," Raven said. "You spend enough time with anything, that's all you can really ask for."
Back in her trailer, the blinds closed, the sound of white noise hissing from a stress box, Annie sat on the sofa and closed her eyes. With each deep, measured breath, she imagined that various parts of her body were slowly going numb, from her fingers to her hand to her wrist to her elbow to her shoulder, until she was as close to dead as she could be. It was an old Fang family technique before doing something disastrous. You pretended to be dead and when you came out of it, nothing, no matter how dire, seemed to matter. She remembered the four of them sitting silently in the van as they each died and came back to life, those brief minutes before they threw open the doors and pressed themselves so violently into the lives of everyone in the general area.
After thirty minutes, she returned to her body and stood up. She slipped out of her t-shirt and then unhooked her bra, letting it fall to the floor. Staring at the mirror, she watched herself as she delivered the lines for the scene. "I am not my sister's keeper," she said, avoiding the urge to cross her arms over her chest. She recited the last line of the scene, "I'm afraid I just don't care, Doctor Nesbitt," and, still topless, pushed open the door of her trailer and walked the fifty yards back to the set, ignoring the production assistants and crew that stared as she passed by them. She found Freeman sitting in his director's chair, still eating his sandwich, and said, "Let's get this fucking scene over with." Freeman smiled. "That's the spirit," he said. "Use that anger in the scene."
As she stood there, naked from the waist up, while the extras and crew and her co-star and just about every single person involved in the movie all stared at her, Annie told herself that it was all about control. She was controlling the situation. She was totally, without a doubt, in control.