Tuesday, August 09, 2011

FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson

I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher.

When I heard FAMILY FANG being compared to THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS, I knew I had to read it.  I love quirky books. Especially when they deal with quirky families. Performance artists Camille and Caleb Fang have sacrificed their family at the altar of Art.  Having been told by their mentor that children destroy art, Camille and Caleb are determined to find a way to have both.  They start incorporating their children into their performace art stunts as babies and the family quickly becomes known throughout the art world for their daring and provocative performances.  Annie and Buster Fang (more commonly known as Child A and Child B) receive all of the fall-out from these experiments. They spend their childhood as often unwilling participants in their parents' "art" and constantly live in a state of expectation as they never know exactly what their parents are planning and how they will be involved. As adults, the dysfunction of their family continues to affect both Annie and Buster.  Annie becomes an actress who can't seem to find her authentic self and seems unable to stop herself from doing in appropriate things.  Buster is a one-hit wonder author who is drifting aimlessly as a freelance journalist trying to figure out what he is going to do with his life.  When Annie and Buster's parents disappear, the children come together to discover the truth about their parents and make choices about how they will live ultimately live their lives.

This is a truly quirky book and I love the descriptions of the Fangs' performance art pieces. Camille and Caleb are such interesting people.  Annie and Buster are slightly less so.  They have been damaged by the chaos that their parents constantly drew them into.  While many readers found this book hilarious, I have to disagree. I found it sad.  Caleb and Camille have chosen Art about everything else...including their family.  They have placed their children in dangerous situations and taken advantage of their vulnerability in countless ways in the name of Art.  Annie and Buster's struggles as adults make it clear exactly how their eccentric upbringing affected them.  They drift about trying to disentangle their identities from that of their parents.  My reaction upon finishing the book was one of sadness for these lost children.

BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended. This is an unusual story with clever characters but it is not the comic novel I thought it would be.  It is a very well-rendered view of a severely dysfunctional family.  But not like any dysfunctional family you have ever seen before.

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