four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
55-Nov-Dec-2011
By: 
Kevin Wilson
user_rating: 
0

A-The Family FangKevin Wilson teaches courses on fiction and writing at the University of the South. The Family Fang, his comedic debut novel, follows his short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.

The Story: The Fangs, rather than the vampires the title suggests, are a family of performance artists out to make a name for themselves no matter the cost. Caleb and Camille, the parents, stage public confrontations and use their children, Annie (Child A.) and Buster (Child B.), to provoke reactions from the public. They enroll Buster in a beauty pageant disguised as a girl; they print out fake coupons for free sandwiches at a shop to see what happens. Not surprisingly, the psychologically damaged children leave home the moment they can, but Annie finds disillusionment as a Hollywood actress and Buster finds it as a writer. Unable to cope on their own, they reluctantly concoct a family reunion--but they get more than they bargained for in one final family performance.
Ecco/HarperCollins. 320 pages. $23.99. ISBN: 9780061579035

Miami Herald 4.5 of 5 Stars
"The Family Fang is first and foremost a comic masterpiece, but Wilson has managed to inject a hint of universality. The Fangs may be deeply unconventional, but Wilson gets to the heart of the blend of admiration and resentment that pervades every family unit." Connie Ogle

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Wilson's ambition alone is exciting. ... [His] writing has a Houdini-like perfection, wherein no matter how grim the variables, each lovely sentence manages to escape with all its parts intact." Molly Young

Houston Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The Family Fang--and, really, I cannot believe I am about to type this--is almost a mash-up of The Addams Family and The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead's sharp, unblinking look at the politics of a cataclysmically broken family. ... The Family Fang is a delicious book by a stunningly nimble writer." Maggie Galehouse

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Wilson, though he writes wittily about various outré Fang performance pieces, resists putting too much emphasis on the family gimmick. ... [Wilson] has created a memorable shorthand for describing parent-child deceptions and for ways in which creative art and destructive behavior intersect." Janet Maslin

Entertainment Weekly HHHJ
"Wilson writes with the studied quirkiness of George Saunders or filmmaker Wes Anderson, and there's some genuine warmth beneath all the surface eccentricity." Thom Geier

Cleveland Plain Dealer HHJ
"The novel reads quickly, toggling between scenes of past Fang disruptions and the present, but the narrative ease and wit come at the expense of credulity and characterization. ... [Mostly], this novel revels in its anarchist glee." Vikas Turakhia

Critical Summary

At heart, The Family Fang raises questions about the value of art (especially when children become sacrificial lambs) and explores familial deception and the damaging consequences of selfish, dysfunctional parents. Critics couldn't help but praise the framework that brought these themes to the fore: bizarre, hilarious, comic, compelling, and just a little bit tragic. Nor did they voice complaints about the exquisite writing. The only real criticism was the characterization of the parents: the Boston Globe called them "a pair of dreadfully pretentious dingbats" that compromised the novel's premise, and the Cleveland Plain Dealer compared them to "a recurring couple in Victoria Roberts' New Yorker cartoons." But most readers will find themselves on an absorbing, comic adventure with the Family Fang.