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Book review: Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang



The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (Ecco, 320 pages, $23.99).

Caleb and Camille Fang are acclaimed performance artists whose work involves creating public disturbances of various sorts, and then recording and dissecting the reactions and chaos they unleash. Helping Camille and Caleb with their art are their two children, Annie and Buster, or as they're known to their parents, Child A and Child B. A and B reluctantly take part in Caleb and Camille's set pieces, such as the novel's opening scene in which Camille shoplifts an enormous stash of jellybeans at a mall store while the rest of the family members act as both distractions and informers.

Annie and Buster try to break free from their fate as artful co-conspirators but fail, until their parents suddenly disappear from a highway rest stop, wiping out whatever thin line still existed for them between art and life.

Now, years later, Annie and Buster are grown, their lives are a big mess, and so they find and move back in with the folks. They're mad at life, at their parents, and at their own embarrassment at having been used as parts in their parents' art. Moreover, as the awkward return home unfolds, Annie and Buster get the impression that they're possibly being ensnared by one last big performance art piece.

Author Kevin Wilson's sharp, precise style and his funny set pieces create a strange but believable world where little happens as expected. Wilson's knack for the telling moment allows readers to look closely at parent-child relations in all their truth-telling and lying glory. But it's his insights and heart that get us to consider, and even value, the unpredictable interface between creativity and destructiveness. This is smart, funny fiction, and one of this year's more delightful surprises.

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