very different ways to deal with traumatic family histories – book reviews for the week

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson tells the story of the Fangs, and the unpredictable and sometimes traumatic art they create together

Just finished

Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler, tells the gripping story of Dana, a black woman sent back in time to save her white, slave-owning ancestor.Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

Once I settled into the writing style, I really enjoyed this book. It tells the story of Dana, a black woman from the 70s who travels back in time to protect one of her white, slave-owning ancestors. When Dana first travels back to save Rufus, he’s just a boy. Later Dana realizes she has to keep Rufus alive long enough so that he can father a child with a slave named Alice, the child being a direct ancestor of Dana’s. The relationship that develops between Dana and Rufus is complex and constantly shifting, Dana walking a tightrope between Rufus’s safety and her own; if Rufus dies in the 19th century, Dana will never be born. At one point, Dana’s white husband from present-time travels back with her, presenting even more interesting and complicated racial dynamics. I really loved how this book offered no easy or simple answers. The brutality of slavery was not smoothed over with a romantic or sympathetic brush, but neither was it simplified into a clear good vs evil dichotomy. It’s messy and violent, weird and haunting. If this is what Butler was writing in the 70s, I can’t wait to read some of her more contemporary stuff.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson tells the story of the Fangs, and the unpredictable and sometimes traumatic art they create togetherThe Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

I liked The Family Fang. It was quirky and pleasantly surprising, if a little unbalanced pacing-wise. This book is mostly centered around Annie and Buster Fang, childs A and B respectively of artists Camille and Caleb Fang. The Fang parents stage bizarre performances in unexpected places and drag their children unwillingly into it. The book jumps back and forth between past and present, showing how the trauma of being involved in their parents’ unpredictable and sometimes dangerous art as children has fucked them up beyond repair as adults. The mystery of the middle of the book was genuinely taught and engaging. I usually hate thrillers, but this wasn’t one of those books with carefully laid clues to make you feel like a dummy when the secret is revealed. As the reader, you (and Annie and Buster) aren’t really sure what’s going on, and the book does an excellent job of evoking that feeling of being disappointed over and over again, but unwilling to give up hope.

Currently reading

The Circle by Dave Eggers

I have enjoyed the other books by Eggers that I’ve read (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and What is the What) and this one seems to be of a similar, easy style. Protagonist Mae has just started her new job at giant tech firm the Circle, and the first few red flags are just beginning to be raised. The material seems to be unfortunately dated; in the era of privacy fears it’s hard to imagine a huge audience of people in the future getting excited and hopeful about tiny secret cameras being placed around the world without consent. I’ve enjoyed the descriptions of characters in the book so far, as well as the vivid details of the Apple/Google-ish campus where Mae works. It’s pretty clear things are going to go quickly south for Mae and the Circle, and since I’ve already got Mr. Robot on the brain, I’m ready to take the ride.

On the horizon

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

I hated Wonder Boys but loved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, so I’m curious to see where this more recent Chabon novel will fall.

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