The Family Fang
By Kevin Wilson
Ecco, Harper Collins, 2011
Annie and Buster Fang, also known as Child A and Child B, are the offspring of Camille and Caleb Fang, award-winning artists who pursue a unique form of public performance art that borders on spectacle. From a young age, Annie and Buster are expected to engage in orchestrated and public art happenings with their parents that are intended to insert “art” into everyday places like malls, restaurants and school plays. Now in their mid- to late-twenties, Annie and Buster, although successful artists in their own right, struggle to function as adults. After a combination of odd events in the first few chapters of the book (involving potato guns in Nebraska [Buster] and topless film scenes [Annie]), both siblings move back into their parents’ home in Tennessee and drama unfolds when their parents go missing.
I found this book to be quirky, funny and totally engrossing. Annie and Buster are multi-dimensional, although slightly over-the-top, characters. The novel alternates between their stories as adults and experiences with their parents in “art” performances as children and young adults. Wilson is particularly deft at creating engaging and fully developed scenes that show the characters in action. Rarely does his narrator intrude. He also takes on meaty topics in this entertaining novel. To me his central guiding questions for the book are: is it possible to be a parent and an artist, and to what extent do children change the art their parents create?