Why I Read It: Another Cannonball-er reviewed it a few months ago and it caught my interest!
My Rating: 4 stars
Summary: The Fangs are a family of artists. The parents, Caleb and Camille, stage elaborate performance art pieces across the country, infiltrating and shocking mainstream America. For years, they involved their children–Annie and Buster–in their art, making them participate in the chaos. We meet the Fangs years past their prime. Annie and Buster are in their twenties, with lives of their own, but are far from thriving. After a few big personal/career mistakes, they both move back to their parents’ home in Tennessee, where they are finally forced to come to terms with the effects of their bizarre upbringing.
My Review: This was…not what I was expecting. For some reason, I was kind of reluctant to actually read this. It was sitting around my room for at least two weeks before I picked it up and gave it a try, but once I did, I was hooked. This book was more than a little weird, but it’s also funny and tragic and really unique. Wilson takes the common trope of the dysfunctional family and warps it to make it completely his own, and it works so well. There’s a definite similarity between this book and The Royal Tenenbaums–wacky family, off-beat sense of humor, implausible-yet-just-human-enough scenarios–but Wilson is far from derivative. These characters, especially Caleb and Camille, could have easily devolved into caricatures, but Wilson has just enough restraint to make them feel believable. Annie and Buster are especially well-drawn, with the damage that their parents have inflicted on them clear but not too obvious, controlling their adult lives in ways they can’t quite recognize. I wasn’t expecting to become so attached to them, or to be so emotionally affected by this book.
This book is also really, genuinely funny. The clear highlights are the short segments interspersed with the present-day action that describe some of the crazy pieces the Fang parents thought up. I loved these parts–they got more and more unbelievable, and were pretty hilarious.
I’ve heard a lot of complaints about the ending, but I liked it. Without giving anything away, obviously, I think it ends as appropriately as it can–it maintains the weirdness and pain of the rest of the book, and I don’t know that Wilson could have come up with an ending that was any better. It was a puzzling conclusion, and definitely a strange one, but I think it made sense.
Should You Read It? If you like quirky humor, then definitely.