Book Review: The Family Fang

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson. Reviewed by Louise Hilton.

“Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.” From the first lines of Kevin Wilson’s stunning debut novel The Family Fang, I was hooked. Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists who thrill at disrupting the status quo. Armed with a videocamera, the Fangs travel around the country visiting public places such as shopping malls to stage their “pieces” with their hapless children, Annie and Buster, in tow. The kids happily participate in their parents’ performances, even experiencing the rush of adrenaline when the stunts go off as planned and create a commotion, until Annie and Buster, or Child A and Child B as they are credited in their parents’ pieces, get a bit older … and realize just how strange their family actually is.

The chapters alternate between present day – Buster is a struggling novelist and Annie is a Hollywood starlet – and performances from their childhood during their parents’ heyday. When both of the Fang children’s careers start to flounder, they return to their parents’ home to regroup. Caleb and Camille are planning their magnum opus and are crestfallen to learn that their grown children, understandably, want no part of it.

When their parents vanish overnight and their car is later found abandoned with blood all around it, Annie and Buster are forced to ask themselves if it is foul play or just part of their parents’ master plan, since they certainly wouldn’t put it past Caleb and Camille to stage their own deaths. Annie and Buster embark on a cross-country quest to discover the truth – no matter how painful – and Wilson’s evocative prose beckons the reader along with them on the wild ride to the book’s surprise ending.

The Fangs fervently believe that “Art, if you loved it, was worth any amount of unhappiness and pain. If you had to hurt someone to achieve those ends, so be it. If the outcome was beautiful enough, strange enough, memorable enough, it did not matter. It was worth it.” I can’t say I agree – or that Mr. and Mrs. Fang are particularly likable – but their commitment to their craft certainly adds an interesting dimension to their characters.

The story just begs for a movie adaptation – I immediately thought of the Fang family as perfect candidates for a Wes Anderson movie (minus a bit of the pretentiousness) and pictured Bill Murray in my head every time I read about the patriarch Mr. Fang.

There’s no question that the characters Wilson so deftly develops in The Family Fang are bizarre but it all adds to the reading experience and the end result is a brilliant novel that is simply a treat to read.

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