Tag Archives: Kevin Wilson

3 thoughts on the debut novel in 2013

ONE — You don’t have to be young to debut. The biggest surprise of this year of reading has been the age of the authors. While plenty of debut and emerging writers are in their twenties and thirties (enter Eleanor Catton), a quarter of the books I reviewed in 2012/2013 were published by authors over the age of 40 and there are many who debut after the age of forty or even fifty. Charlotte Rogan signed a contract on The Lifeboat right after her 57th birthday. Ben Fountain was a National Book Award finalist for Billy Lynn’s Long Hafltime Walk, also published in his fifties. And later this year I am going to review Lies You Wanted to Hear, by James Whitfield Thomson, who is 67. We live in a time when it is OK, even exciting, to celebrate authors who publish their first books after 40. There is even a blog, Bloom, which writes about emerging authors in this age band.

TWO — There is no formula. Some debut novels are written in first person, others in third. Some are sprawling and written in many voices, others are smaller and written from one POV. Some authors show more than tell and others tell more than show. I give Kevin Wilson a shout out for the debut novelist best able to show – I don’t think there is a single page in The Family Fang, which summarizes or recounts, but each of the books I read had a unique voice, a flair which made me feel like anyone who cites a rule for what kind of novel can make it is not reading what is being published today. And while the two most experimental books I read this year, Thrill-Bent by Jan Richman and Leaving the Atocha Station, by Ben Lerner, were published by small presses, Tupelo and Coffee House Press, respectively, mainstream publishers do take risks. When I read The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, and published by Reagan Arthur/Little Brown, I was drawn in to the story and the prose, but never would I have predicted this book could be a finalist for the Pulitzer. And Narcopolis, by Jeet Thayil, published by Penguin, is a free spirited book that reminded me of the books published by small presses.

THREE — The novel is not dead. After reading such a range of debut novels in the past year, I feel strongly that the novel is alive and well in American culture; there actually isn’t enough time in a year for any one person to read and review all of the stand out debut books published. As a culture we might not read as many novels as we did 10 or 20 years ago, but there is an appetite for writing fiction, and it is exciting to read new authors and books.

What do you think? What have you noticed about debut novels in 2013?


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The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson


The Family Fang

By Kevin Wilson

Ecco, Harper Collins, 2011

314 pages

Annie and Buster Fang, also known as Child A and Child B, are the offspring of Camille and Caleb Fang, award-winning artists who pursue a unique form of public performance art that borders on spectacle. From a young age, Annie and Buster are expected to engage in orchestrated and public art happenings with their parents that are intended to insert “art” into everyday places like malls, restaurants and school plays. Now in their mid- to late-twenties, Annie and Buster, although successful artists in their own right, struggle to function as adults. After a combination of odd events in the first few chapters of the book (involving potato guns in Nebraska [Buster] and topless film scenes [Annie]), both siblings move back into their parents’ home in Tennessee and drama unfolds when their parents go missing.

I found this book to be quirky, funny and totally engrossing. Annie and Buster are multi-dimensional, although slightly over-the-top, characters. The novel alternates between their stories as adults and experiences with their parents in “art” performances as children and young adults.  Wilson is particularly deft at creating engaging and fully developed scenes that show the characters in action. Rarely does his narrator intrude. He also takes on meaty topics in this entertaining novel. To me his central guiding questions for the book are: is it possible to be a parent and an artist, and to what extent do children change the art their parents create?

Much of the story is based in Tennessee, the state Wilson calls home. The book got widely reviewed when it came out in 2011. Looks like it might become a film!




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