The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Published by: Ecco Books
Published on: August 9, 2011
Page Count: 320
Genre: Literary Fiction
My Reading Format: ARC sent to me by the publisher for review
Available Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Growing up, Annie and Buster Fang were known to those who followed their parents’ performance art as Child A and Child B. In an attempt to prove that marriage and children do not kill art, Caleb and Camille made their children part of their art from a very early age. While doing things as a family is a good thing, Annie and Buster weren’t keen on taking part in these events that usually required them to do things they weren’t sure of or made them uncomfortable. Growing up in a continuous work of art did not lead to happiness. There was never a moment of stability in their lives and they were isolated from everyone around them. Annie fled to make an acting career for herself in Hollywood as soon as she could. Buster, a writer with moderate success in the past, is almost living hand to mouth writing magazine articles. When Annie and Buster’s adult lives combust at nearly the same time and they move back in with their parents, one last piece of performance art might just be the end of the entire Fang family.
From the very first chapter where we meet Annie on the set of her latest Hollywood film, I fell in love with this book. It is delightfully quirky. In that first chapter, Annie is upset about being asked to do a nude scene that wasn’t in the script. She reluctantly calls her parents for advice. The first glimpse the readers get of Caleb and Camille is of them encouraging her to go topless and to do it with gusto. It’s as if they were waiting for her to blossom. Next we meet Buster in Iowa interviewing a group of unemployed soldiers who have returned after serving in Iraq. They have created a monster potato gun. Buster gets involved with them and pays for it dearly. Only two chapters in, I knew the absurdity of that situation and its aftermath were things that could happen around and to a member of the Fang family. I knew I was in for a ride right then and there.
Even the structure of the novel suited the story so well. The Family Fang is told in alternating chapters by each of the adult Fang children. In between each chapter the reader is taken back in time to witness a piece of the Fang family’s performance art. Over time, the full weight and impact of their upbringing is made known. As much as I wanted to know what happened next to Annie and Buster, I always looked forward to the next zany piece of art dreamed up by Caleb and Camille. At a certain point, as the situation with the present day Fang family reaches a head, the art created by Caleb and Camille turns strange and dark. After spending so many years turning their family into living art, the Fangs flounder when the children seemingly abandon the lives they built. After years of telling their children to “just go with it,” could they do the very same thing themselves?
This novel, which is consistently humorous as it explores this over the top family, is more than just an amusing read. It explores the meaning of family, the meaning of parenthood and the worth of art. Annie and Buster’s escapes are so very amusing until you look up and realize just how much you feel their own sorrow and anger. Caleb and Camille are people who certainly chose a unique way to raise their children, but why? Did they simply chose their own path down the road of parenting or were they neglectful and abusive in their own way? What do parents owe their children? What do children owe their parents? What obligations do siblings have to one another? These are all questions that come to mind while reading The Family Fang.
Kevin Wilson and this novel are examples of why 2011 has been a stand out year for fiction. Wilson has a gift for getting under his readers’ skin using humor and the absurd to then demand more from them than just a laugh or appreciative nod. His work has much to say about today’s obsession with Reality TV. When one’s life is lived to be on display as art or in order to get a reaction from the public, there is a disconnect inside of oneself that can’t readily be mended.
Pick up The Family Fang for a good time. You’ll not be disappointed. Just understand that it will be the aftershocks that you’ll remember and truly appreciate long after the last laugh.