Can a family survive their own peculiarities, those that can affect the outcome of their lives forever? In The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson, we follow the lives of a family through a strange and bizarre set of circumstances. The Fangs are known for their art, a strange and natural form, where anything and everything can be pulled in to develop an art form of their own choosing. Having met and fallen in love, Caleb and Camille dedicate their lives to finding their art in every action and response, catching the very act of reaction and playing it into the representation itself.
When Camille finds herself pregnant, at first they are concerned. Can true art exist with a child present? Caleb and Camille set out to prove that it can, and once their second child comes along they have incorporated both children into the fold, somehow convincing others that what they do is the real thing. Annie and Buster are raised to be involved in this strangely mischievous form of discipline. The more reaction the better, as each strange and unlikely occurrence is photographed or taped for posterity. Many of the stunts are wild but would attract crowds like locust. They are often arrested for the disturbances they cause.
As Annie and Buster grow they find themselves ready to break away. This is exactly what they did. Buster begins with writing, and Annie becomes an actress. Yet their lives are not easy. Annie does well but is not sure of her abilities. Buster has moved on, and done some news stories, and when he is chosen to do a story on a group in Idaho that has developed a potato gun, he is interested. He finds himself with an interesting group, willing to pull out the stops to show off their hardware. After several practice sessions on each other, they finally convince Buster to hold the target on his head. Finally agreeing, he is amazed at how he feels when the stunt works. Making himself available for one last time, the blast is the last thing he remembers before waking up in the hospital.
It is this accident that brings both he and Annie back into the family fold. Things are still the same, but now the actions and art seem a bit lamer. Their parents do not seem to have the same panache. When Camille and Caleb disappear without warning, both Annie and Buster believe they are up to their old tricks, just another form of art. They will show up with the pictures to post in their gallery. But when the police contact Annie and let her know they have found their vehicle surrounded by blood, Annie and Buster begin to wonder. Can they truly be dead? Or is this one more of their crazy stunts, their unique and odd form of art? How will Annie know the truth of this odd twist of fortune?
Wilson has put together an interesting form of comedic tragedy. He has structured the life of his characters around art, with all parts of their lives a form of the canvas itself. The interplay is interesting and how the children developed based on the early years seems a bit of tragedy. I understand the book to be a bit of comedy and yet I could not see the comedy, only the sadness of the situation.
I found The Family Fang a bit of a struggle to get through although it was written quite well. I found the premise a bit over the top and a little unbelievable, but I felt a certain pain for the children. It seems as though they were never really children at all but parts of a chess set, made to move and destroy at will, and I found a certain sadness in that.
If you find a bit of comedy and tragedy intertwined to create an intricate piece of art, you might enjoy this work. It was entertaining to a degree, but I found it to be strongly in a place of its own. The characters were certainly well-written, and I found myself admiring those bits of themselves they were able to salvage from their childhood.
A book club would enjoy such a work, the intricacies of the tale would give them discussion and dissembling both for argument and agreement.