If you, like me, enjoy quirky novels and stories about dysfunctional families you're in for a treat with The Family Fang. Just let me tell you first that despite the title suggesting blood and bites in suburbia, c.f. The Radleys
by Matt Haig, there are no vampires in sight. Indeed it is much closer to the crazy academics of the Casper family in Joe Meno's enjoyable novel The Great Maybe and the films of Wes Anderson like The Royal Tenenbaums
, all of which are good fun. hugely enjoyed by the way).
Camille and Caleb Fang are renowned performance artists. They specialise in staging events at shopping malls at which the public get drawn into their meticulous plans. Things get a bit quiet when their two children are born, but as soon as Annie and Buster are old enough, they become part of the act, known to all as Child A and Child B. "Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. "You make a mess and then you walk away from it," their daughter, Annie, told them."
Naturally, having grown up being used in the name of art, Annie and Buster become seriously mucked up adults. They are both initially successful in their chosen career paths; Annie acting in Hollywood, Buster as a budding novelist and journalist. Life catches up with them however, and they both have crises, returning home to lick their wounds and regroup, only to discover out that their parents have had crises of their own (or is it art?), and that they must not only find their own ways back, but sort their parents out too.
The stories of the adult Annie and Buster alternate with episodes detailing the performance art events they were part of in their youth. Caleb and Camille's performance art is excruciatingly awful; engineering and manipulating situations that involve not just them and their kids, but aim to get reactions and participation from the unwitting observers too. Do you remember the scene in the Michael Douglas film Falling Down
? The one where he wants a fast food breakfast a few minutes after they stop serving them; imagine that, but without the gun... that's the sort of thing the Fangs do. It usually ends up with them being led away by the police who can usually be persuaded to let them go once it is explained that they are the famous Fangs and that it was `art'. You have to laugh, but it's not comfortable.
Camille and Caleb are like big children; Annie and Buster are more like parents to them than the right way around. This role reversal, and the parents' refusal to live life normally was endlessly fascinating. I kept hoping that, like Homer and Marge in The Simpsons, or the equally dysfunctional Hoover family in Little Miss Sunshine
, that they'd all hug, make up and become a proper family again ... or did I?
If you want to find out what happens, you'll have to read it yourself, but I hope I've given you a flavour of this entertaining and bittersweet debut novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to read Wilson's next whenever that comes.