Kevin Wilson and his wife, poet Leigh Anne Couch, became parents at the same time he began to write The Family Fang. In the novel, Caleb and Camille Fang—fearing their children will kill their performance art careers—incorporate the kids into the work itself.
Like Caleb Fang, were you afraid that raising a child would ruin you and your wife's art?
Yeah. One of the things that Leigh Anne and I like about ourselves is our writing. We had our son, Griff, and I had a novel to write, and I thought, "This is going to kill me." I worried that I would never write anything again because this kid would take over our lives. And he has taken over our lives! Yet the writing is important enough to us that we stick with it. Children do have the potential to kill art. But now I think they kill the bad art. At least that is what my son has done for me.
Camille Fang describes their art as "strange and memorable things." Is that how you would describe your stories?
That's what I strive for. My teacher Padgett Powell talked about Donald Barthelme's "wacky mode." I operate best in wacky modes. The hope is that the story will be strange enough to grab readers' interest, yet substantial enough to last beyond the strangeness. This feels like a genuine magic trick.
Were you ever worried the Fangs' playfulness might erode the serious foundation of the book?
I like lightness. I grew up reading not-serious literature, like comic books and pulp novels, so my instinct is to amuse the reader and entertain. Then I make sure there's some sort of resonance, which is hard. Here, I wanted the lightness to help the story—which is about a terrible set of parents abusing their children—from getting bogged down, and to show the resiliency of the family.
Abusing their children? Camille and Caleb Fang don't seem like child abusers.
I kind of love them. But what they are doing can be characterized as emotional abuse. The best way for the Fangs to show how much they love their children is to allow them to become a part of their work, because they are people who care so much about their art—no matter how bizarre and debilitating it might be. They think they are doing a great service to their children.
Are you worried about incorporating your son into your art life like the Fangs do? Here you are already: a stranger is asking questions about your son.
I hope that if our family is so strange, then the strangeness of the outside world won't faze him. I hope not to ruin our son, but I also appreciate the fact that he could end up being an idiosyncratic, strange person. That is A-okay with me.