By Susan Taylor
In search of provocative summer reading? August brings two interesting novels that resonate long after the last page is turned
The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson’s debut novel, is about growing up in an artistic family and trying to make one’s own way in the world after a most peculiar childhood. Annie and Buster’s parents aren’t merely artists—they are successful performance artists whose work consists of staging guerrilla actions: enacting and inspiring scenes of mayhem and mischief amidst unsuspecting bystanders and filming the results. Annie and Buster (Child A and Child B for the purposes of their art) are required to participate in these artworks and the esprit de corps inspired by their escapades makes the Fang family especially close. Years later, Annie is a moderately successful actress whose life begins to fray after a hookup with a co-star becomes public (naked pictures included) and she decides to leave her stable, wealthy boyfriend. Buster is a not-particularly-successful magazine writer who gets shot in the face with a potato gun while on assignment. Both return to their parents’ home to recover their equilibrium, but Camille and Caleb Fang have other ideas. When their children refuse to take part in their planned happenings, the senior Fangs head off on a trip to make art in another state—and disappear. Is it real? Is it art? Are they dead? Is this Caleb and Camille’s biggest performance ever? Will Annie and Buster ever manage to move out from their parents’ shadows without knowing the answers? Will they ever be able to live responsible adult lives after being raised (figuratively speaking) by wolves? Switching from the present day back to various performance art pieces, Wilson chronicles the history of the family, their idiosyncrasies and the development of their art. This is a funny, interesting novel that you will urge your friends to read so you can talk to someone about it; if you belong to a book group, this is a book that will spark a terrific discussion.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles is an entertaining, intelligent comedy of manners set in Manhattan in 1938. Katey (formerly Katya) Kontent, and her friend Eve, have moved to the big city to reinvent themselves, and on New Year’s Eve 1938 they meet Tinker Grant, a well-off young man, in a low-rent bar where he buys them drinks and charms them for the evening. Despite Katey’s interest in him, Eve sets her sights on Tinker, and when a terrible accident leaves Eve unable to work, Tinker moves her into his apartment for her convalescence. From that inauspicious beginning, Katey gets an entrée into the moneyed class and begins her journey to the top, her ascent to the pinnacle of the American dream. With boldness and wit, she improves her circumstances without sacrificing her integrity, and in the process meets the movers, shakers and fakers of high society.
Katey is a wonderful character; her clear-eyed view of the people surrounding her is usually right on target, but when an ugly truth reveals itself towards the end of the year, she has to reassess her situation and the people she associates with in order to make her way forward in life. This is a beautifully written “working girl makes good” morality tale that illustrates how choices made narrow the choices one can make in the future, and how one year can set the tone for the rest of one’s life. Highly recommended.
Susan Taylor has been in the book business since 1982.