The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
I do enjoy quirky novels. I also enjoy stories about dysfunctional families. The Family Fang is both, and just let me tell you that despite the title suggesting blood and bites in suburbia, c.f. The Radleys by Matt Haig, there are no vampires in sight. Indeed it is much closer to the crazy academics of the Casper family in Joe Meno’s novel The Great Maybe and the films of Wes Anderson like The Royal Tenenbaums, (all of which I hugely enjoyed by the way).
Camille and Caleb Fang are renowned performance artists. They specialise in staging events at shopping malls at which the public get drawn into their meticulous planning. Things get a bit quiet when their two children are born, but as soon as Annie and Buster are old enough, they become part of the act, known to all as Child A and Child B.
Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. “You make a mess and then you walk away from it,” their daughter, Annie, told them. “It’s a lot more complicated than that, honey,” Mrs. Fang said as she handed detailed breakdowns of the event to each member of the family. “But there’s a simplicity in what we do as well,” Mr. Fang said. “Yes, there is that, too,” his wife replied. Annie and her younger brother, Buster, said nothing. They were driving to Huntsville, two hours away, because they did not want to be recognized. Anonymity was a key element of the performances; it allowed them to set up the scenes without interruption from people who would be expecting mayhem.
Naturally, having grown up being used in the name of art, Annie and Buster become seriously mucked up adults. They are both initially successful in their chosen career paths; Annie acting in Hollywood, Buster as a budding novelist and journalist. Life catches up with them however, and they both have crises, returning home to lick their wounds and regroup, only to discover out that their parents have had crises of their own (or is it art?), and that they must not only find their own ways back, but sort their parents out too.
The stories of the adult Annie and Buster alternate with episodes detailing the performance art events they were part of in their youth. Caleb and Camille’s performance art is excruciatingly awful; engineering and manipulating situations that involve not just them and their kids, but aim to get reactions and participation from the unwitting observers too. Do you remember the scene in the Michael Douglas film Falling Down where he wants a fast food breakfast a few minutes after they stop serving them, but without the gun… that’s the sort of thing they do, and it usually ends up with them being led away by the police who can usually be persuaded to let them go once it is explained that they are the famous Fangs and that it was ‘art’. You have to laugh, but it’s not comfortable.
Camille and Caleb are like big children; Annie and Buster are more like parents to them than the right way around. This role reversal, and the parents’ refusal to live life normally was endlessly fascinating. I kept hoping that, like Homer and Marge in The Simpsons, or the equally dysfunctional Hoover family in Little Miss Sunshine, that they’d all hug, make up and become a proper family again … or did I? If you want to find out what happens, you’ll have to read it yourself, but I hope I’ve given you a flavour of this entertaining and bittersweet debut novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to read Wilson’s next whenever that comes. (9/10)
For another view, see what Teresa made of it at Lovely Treez Reads
Source: Review copy
Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang (Picador), paperback 416 pages.
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