Saturday, September 07, 2013
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
At some point in their teen years, every adolescent thinks their parents are weird. I would recommend Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang to those teens for a vivid picture of a family seriously in need of therapy. This clever and off-beat novel is not completely dark, because Wilson loads it with humor.
Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists. Caleb disdains all forms of representational art, because he believes art is in the reaction of a random, surprised audience. Camille has a secret about art of her own. The couple has two children, Annie and Buster, whom they refer to “Child A and Child B,” as though secret code names were required for their clandestine art attacks. Caleb has managed to convince numerous art organizations and foundations to support this work to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
As the reader might expect, when Annie and Buster grow up, they reject the forced participation in their parent’s pieces. Wilson writes: “Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. ‘You make a mess and then walk away from it,’ [Annie] told them. ‘It’s a lot more complicated than that, honey’ Mrs. Fang said […]. ‘But there’s a simplicity in what we do as well,’ Mr. Fang said. ‘Yes, there is that, too,’ his wife replied. Annie and […] Buster said nothing. They were driving toward Huntsville, two hours away, because they did not want to be recognized. Anonymity was a key element of the performances;” (1). As the novel progresses, the events become more and more bizarre.
Oddly enough, Buster and Annie both choose careers in the arts – Annie as a actress and Buster as a writer. After Annie goes through with a public act – at the urging of Caleb -- she nearly ruins her career. She runs away with a friend. Wilson writes, “Wyoming, to Annie, was represented by a blank, bleak space in her imagination. It was a place she could hide. The worst that could happen would be she would sleep with Daniel and then get eaten by a wolf. She could live with that” (96). Dark humor indeed.
Buster has written a well-received novel, but he suffers from writer’s block. A fan asks him to speak to a creative writing class, Buster sets up a bizarre and scary situation. One student says, “‘I think about that kind of [weird] stuff a lot.’ // Buster smiled. If he had any money in his pocket, he would have given it to this guy. ‘Well, that’s why I write, I guess. These weird thoughts come into my head, and I don’t even really want to think about it, but I can’t let go of it until I take it as far as I can, until I reach some kind of ending, and then I can move on. That’s what writing is like for me’.” (130).