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The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

August 11, 2011

How do I describe the new novel by Kevin Wilson, The Family Fang, except to say that it’s funny, sad, crazy and on top of all that it’s a page-turner.  It’s not exactly a “who done it.”  It’s more of a “did they do it” and “why did they do it.”
The story is of the Fang family which is comprised of parents Caleb and Camille with their children A (Annie) and B (Buster).  Caleb and Camille are anti-bourgeois gonzo performance artists who drag their unwilling children into the family business.  Theirs is not the garden variety performance art of lying in bed for a week or going without food for a month. No, the Fang’s are more your guerilla theater take-no-prisoner types.  Although they do take prisoners.  They take their own children hostage and irrevocably put them on a road to self-destruction and failure.  Simply put, Annie and Buster are raised by a couple of bullies who think nothing of subjecting them to shame and humiliation. A and B are just puppets in the grander scheme of Caleb and Camille’s life’s work.
Take the time Annie starred as Juliet in a high school production of Romeo and Juliet. At the last minute, the student cast as Romeo is supposedly involved in a car accident and Buster must step in to play Romeo. Brother and sister as star-crossed lovers?  Just star-crossed as it turns out.
Caleb and Camille seem to have no moral compass, just an allegiance to the greater good of high art.  They spend their lives planning carefully scripted performances that always leave a trail of detritus a mile wide. Sometimes the children are in on the performance and sometimes they are the unwitting focus of it.  They never know in advance.  Partly, it’s the not knowing that leaves them unbalanced and unfit for real life with real relationships and jobs.  But yet, the four Fangs are bound together and need each other to survive or so they think.
Yes, Annie becomes an Oscar-nominated actress and Buster writes a critically-acclaimed book but eventually their lives fall apart.  Annie sets herself up for disaster time after time with bad choices and Buster falls into despair and then is wounded in a freak accident.  Both Annie and Buster, who had finally managed to escape the web of their parents freak shows, end up at home again.  It is then that the final, most mind-boggling performance of all, takes place.  Again, it is with the children, who are now adults, as unwilling participants.  Through Annie and Buster the reader vicariously experiences the familiar feelings of hatred and love toward parents who are both nurturers and torturers although probably not to the degree felt in the Fang family.
Wilson achieves all this with amazing prose and dialogue as well as expert plot development and pacing. It is a book that is hard to put down.  One is forever feeling anxiety over what will happen next to those kids and it is that tension that gives the book momentum. Wilson pulls off a thrilling and shocking ending that is both smart but more importantly a relief.  The Family Fang lacks for nothing and is a fantastic read!

Ecco, August 2011

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