Family Fang (Wilson)

The Family Fang
Kevin Wilson, 2011
320 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780061579059

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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Winchester, Tennessee, USA
Education—B.A., Vanderbilt University; M.F.A., University of Florida
Awards—Shirley Jackson Award
Currently—lives in Swanee, Tennessee

Kevin Wilson is the author of the novels Family Fang (2011) and Perfect Little World (2017). His short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth (2009), received an Alex Award from the American Library Association and the Shirley Jackson Award.

Wilson's fiction has appeared in Ploughshares, Tin House, One Story, A Public Space, and elsewhere, and has appeared in four volumes of the New Stories from the South: The Year’s Best anthology as well as The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories 2012.  He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, Rivendell, and the KHN Center for the Arts.

Born and raised in Winchester, Tennessee, Wilson attended Vanderbilt University and received his M.F.A. at the University of Florida. He returned to Tennessee, where he now lives in Sewanee with his wife, the poet Leigh Anne Couch, and his sons, Griff and Patch. He is an Associate Professor in the English Department at Sewanee: The University of the South. (Adapted from the author's website.)

Book Reviews
The Family less adroit hands might have been a string of twee, deadpan moments and not much more. But Mr. Wilson, though he writes wittily about various outre Fang performance pieces, resists putting too much emphasis on the family gimmick. These events have names...and dates and artistic goals. But they also have consequences. That's what makes this novel so much more than a joke...Mr. Wilson…has created a memorable shorthand for describing parent-child deceptions and for ways in which creative art and destructive behavior intersect.
Janet Maslin - New York Times

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.
Ron Charles - Washington Post

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.

Kevin Wilson asks big questions with subtle humor and deep tenderness.
National Public Radio

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.
Publishers Weekly

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
Library Journal

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.... A fantastic first novel that asks if the kids are alright, finding answers in the most unexpected places.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
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Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Family Fang:

1. Are these parents cruel...or clueless...or what? How would you describe them and their style of parenting? Do you find the two amusing?
2. What is "performance art"? Is it art? What, in general, do its creators attempt to reveal through their art form? Have you ever witnessed performance art?

3. Follow-up to Question # 2: Metaphrically speaking, what is the significance of Caleb and Camille as "performance artists" in terms of Wilson's overall theme? What does it suggest about parenting...or being a child...or being part of family...or about life in general? What are the broader strokes Wilson is painting here?

4. Talk about the consequences of Caleb and Camille's artistry—the ways in which their work affects Buster and Annie, both in the short-term, as children, and in the longer-term as young adults?

5. How might you have survived in the Fang Family?

6. What, to your mind, was the most bizarre—or perhaps the funniest—stunt the parents pulled off?

7. What is the significance of the family's name? Why would Wilson have chosen it—and why would he have inverted the family for his title (i.e., from the Fang Family to the Family Fang)?

8. When Buster and Annie return home, the parents congratulate the wo on their ability to subvert conventional ideas of violence and exploitation. Are the children to be congratulated? What do Buster or Annie think?

9. Follow-up to Question # 8: What do Buster and Annie come to understand about their parents and their upbringing?  What makes them begin to question the things their parents once told them?

10. At some point in all of our lives, we come to see our parents, not as demi-gods, but as human beings. When did that occur to you...and what precipitated the insight? Does the new understanding of one's parents lead to (or come from) maturity or disillusionment...or both?

11. Is this book funny?

(Questions issued by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online of off, with attribution. Thanks)

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