...it's such a minty fresh delight to open up Kevin Wilson's debut novel,...and feel the revitalizing blast of original thought, robust invention, screwball giddiness ... This premise could easily have devolved into pop psychodrama, but think, instead, of something like Little Miss Sunshine — 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 ... Early on in the novel, we're told that the strange art the Fangs create has been glowingly described by critics as 'choreographed spontaneity.' Wilson might as well have been writing a review for his own strange and wonderful novel, for The Family Fang indeed reads as a work of 'choreographed spontaneity' that will linger in your mind long after the mall has closed and the mess in the restaurant has been cleaned up.
...[an] inventive and hilarious debut novel ... Mr. Wilson's depictions of the blithely cannibalistic nature of the movie industry are worthy of Bruce Wagner, the modern master of Hollywood satire ... Even grown up, Buster and Annie find it hard to shake the fear that they have no reality other than as performance pieces.But the two are artists themselves, an actress and a writer. As The Family Fang unfolds a cunning and comic final act, they bravely subsume themselves in their callings, finding a means to recover their identities. 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.
The Family Fang...in 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 outré Fang performance pieces, resists putting too much emphasis on the family gimmick. These events have name...and dates and artistic goals. But they also have consequences. That’s what makes this novel so much more than a joke. Mr. Wilson explores the damage inflicted on children raised in an atmosphere that is intentionally confusing ... Although Mr. Wilson sometimes hints too neatly at where his book is headed, he manages to make the final stages genuinely shocking. This last part of The Family Fang packs a wallop because the rest of the book has been so quirky and seemingly light. But the stakes in the Fang war of wills get higher as the book proceeds, and they move from the specific to the universal ... Mr. 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.
We proceed from a given: that Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang, is a man possessing amazing gifts. As a new writer appearing for the first time, Garp-like, on the literary horizon, Mr. Wilson shows himself to be more than capable of creating an intricate, loop-de-loop narrative. The Family Fang is based on a killer concept and populated with full bodied, meat-on-the-bone characterizations showcasing the author’s particular gift for presenting humor, in all its shapes, sizes, rhythms and hues ... The Family Fang is the sort of perfectly idiosyncratic thing that comes along only ever so often, and that, when it shows up, cannot help but draw attention to itself because of its own glittery nature. It is a Julia Roberts of a book, one with a great big ravishing toothy grin on every page. One that laughs along with the reader—who is laughing plenty himself. This book should succeed spectacularly.
If you're the kind of person who shudders at the word 'kooky', look away ... The ease with which incredible scenarios occur is cartoonish...And the final twist is so improbable that I expected an 'and then they woke up and it had all been a dream' ... The playwright Dario Fo suggested that one of the criteria of satire is being subversive. This is what's missing here; the characters are parodies but without an incisive edge. By Fo's definition Wilson's novel is a spoof; harmless nonsensical fun rather than anything intellectually stimulating, despite its serious underlying message about parents imposing their will on their kids ... But it's probably not fair to criticise a book for not being acerbic or sobbingly funny if that's not its aim. If you like your comedy less acidic and more gentle...this is a well-intentioned story; amusing and accessible, albeit infuriatingly implausible.
This wildly original novel careens from one crisp scene to another, combining dry wit, narrative verve, and an abiding melancholy. It’s hard to believe such an entertaining, enjoyable novel bears the 'literary fiction' stamp of highbrow approval. We need more of these ... While the plot is a roller-coaster, one of the great delights of The Family Fang is the language, where wit crackles in every sentence ... Beneath the layers of comedy, of zany set pieces that range from Caleb and Camille setting themselves on fire, to their entering Buster in a beauty pageant dressed as a girl, is a story with universal resonance.
The main characters of Kevin Wilson’s novel...will draw the inevitable comparisons: Wes Anderson’s Tenenbaums, J.D. Salinger’s troubled and precocious Glass children. But The Family Fang is all its own, a book that in voice, style, and imagination tells a multifaceted story about family, art, and the tricky business of making those disparate things work together ... The Family Fang is at its best showing us what it has meant for the Fang children to grow up with parents who placed art first. Buster and Annie’s challenges, even at their most absurd, are always compelling. This emotional grounding lets Wilson convince his reader of the novel’s more far-reaching conceits—the Fangs’ art, but also Buster’s injury at the hands of those Iraq vets. In the hands of a different novelist, this might be a one-note joke, a forgettable set piece designed to get Buster home. In Wilson’s hands this scene, like the novel as a whole, moves beyond the expected and into something greater.
...[a] bizarre, mirthful debut novel ... 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'.
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.