Daily Archives: 07/31/2013

#22: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Family Fang

The Fang family is Caleb, Camille, Annie and Buster.  Annie and Buster are Child A and Child B.  When you’re used in your parents’ art, it doesn’t make sense for you to have a name.

For Caleb and Camille, it’s all about the art.  You create something that forces people to respond and then you get out while they are still processing the destruction.  Their art is a series of performances pieces, sometimes documented with cameras, as they disrupt normal life to bring meaning into the moment.

That’s how they see it, anyway.  For Annie and Buster, it’s horrible and confusing and wonderful and theirs.

Growing up, you are your parents.  You like what they like because you don’t know that there are other options.  You like the music they play because they like it.  When they tell you that it’s important that you stand in public, telling lies about a sick dog while playing instruments you don’t know how to use, you stand in public, telling lies about a sick dog while playing instruments you don’t know how to use.  When you parents begin to boo you, you know that this is art and it’s important and that nothing works without you.

But as Annie and Buster get older, they become more and more frustrated with their parents’ art.  Annie especially begins to see that she will be unable to live as Child A and has to get out and on her own.  Buster is more of a peacemaker, wanting to leave with Annie while at the same time not letting his parents down.

Even in their most frustrated moments, Annie and Buster will always do what their parents ask.  They understand that the art is what comes first and even if they don’t like it, they do it because their parents asked them to…  Until their parents go too far.  When it happens, Annie and Buster break at the same time.

Years later both of them are struggling in their adult lives.  Growing up in a home where every moment had to be about art and meaning and significance, it’s become hard to know what any of these things mean anymore.  Annie isn’t sure how to interact with people and although she is finding success as an actress, she still seems to be searching for who she is, since she was Child A for so long.

Buster has also had success as a writer, but things have not been going well and he’s running out of money.  A potato accident sends him to the hospital, and then back to his parents.  When Annie finds out that he’s moved back home, she’s horrified, but then soon joins him when her own life creates an exceptional explosion.

Like all books about going home, Annie and Buster are forced to confront their childhoods and examine how they felt about their parents and the art.  The four stayed in touch, but Annie and Buster refuse to let their parents have power over them again.  It was too confusing growing up as Child A and Child B and not knowing when art was going to happen.

It seems like this will be your basic go home, get your shit together, learn something important about life, then move on type of book, but then Caleb and Camille disappear.


Annie and Buster are convinced it’s another art performance, but there was blood and no one can find them.  How do you come to terms with dead parents where there are no bodies and every single moment of your lives together has convinced you that this is a stunt?  The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but so much worse.

Annie and Buster will probably go insane without an answer.  Everything about this screams Fang art, but what if it is not?

This book made me sad.

This was a book group pick and it made for a great conversation.  I don’t understand much modern art.  It’s weird to me, especially the paintings of a single straight line on one side of a giant canvas.  Why is this art?  Why are so many of us thinking “My two year old could do that!”?

And performance art?  What the fuck?  Sure, there are always exceptions, but for the most part… why?  Why would the Fangs create destruction, forcing people to react, call it art, and leave?  What is the purpose?  What do they gain and why is it so important to them that people react?  I don’t get it.

Adding the parent/child dynamic is what made me sad.  It is made clear that the art comes first and that their art is far superior to other forms of art.  Caleb can become enraged when people put value on lesser forms such as painting when it is static and means nothing.  For him, it’s about the moment of destruction, chaos, confusion, voyeurism, or panic.  It got to the point where I was pretty sure they only had Buster so they could have another piece to use in their performances.  Once Caleb realized Annie’s potential, she became important as art, but not as a kid.

The family does love each other, so it’s not horrible, but it’s confusing as hell.  When everything is art, is everything art?  When we started talking about the book it became layers and layers of “Is this the art?  Is it this part?  Was this art? When you are waiting for the art to happen, is that part the art?”  Like Buster, we found it confusing and frustrating.

I did enjoy the book.  Annie and Buster are wonderful characters and I was very pleased with their final chapters, Annie’s especially.  Caleb is a strong character in the sense that he’s completely clear about who and what he is.  We did wonder a bit if he was a sociopath with his lack of empathy or understanding of other people’s feelings, but at the same time he just wants people to react.  Camille is more calming, but still wants everything to have meaning, even if it’s at the expense of her relationship with her children.  I wanted to be mad at them, but it was hard to because they are honest and true to their beliefs.  I was absolutely on Annie and Buster’s side, but I understood why the family dynamic existed.

There are a lot of stories in this book and several could have become their own book, but Wilson ties everything together and creates a complete background for the Family Fang and his readers.  It’s worth the read, but know that while you’re reading it you’ll start to wonder if the book is the art or if you reading it is the art or if you thinking about the book is the art or when the book was written was the art, or… or… or…