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.