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The Family Fang: A Novel Hardcover – August 9, 2011
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011: For outré performance artists, Caleb and Camille Fang, everything in life is secondary to art, including their children. Annie and Buster (popularly known as Child A. and Child B.) are the unwilling stars of their parents’ chaotically subversive work. Art is truly a family affair for the Fangs. Years later, their lives in disarray, Annie and Buster reluctantly return home in search of sanctuary—only to be caught up in one last performance. The Family Fang sparkles with Kevin Wilson’s inventive dialogue and wonderfully rendered set-pieces that capture the surreal charm of the Fang’s most notable work. With this brilliant novel, the family Fang is destined to join the families Tenenbaum and Bluth as paragons of high dysfunction.--Shane Hansanuwat
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Wilson's bizarre, mirthful debut novel (after his collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth) traces the genesis of the Fang family, art world darlings who make "strange and memorable things." That is, they instigate and record public chaos. In one piece, "The Portrait of a Lady, 1988," fragile nine-year-old Buster Fang dons a wig and sequined gown to undermine the Little Miss Crimson Clover beauty pageant, though he secretly desires the crown himself. In "A Modest Proposal, July 1988," Buster and his older sister, Annie, watch their father, Caleb, propose to mother, Camille, over an airliner's intercom and get turned down (" plane crash would have been welcomed to avoid the embarrassment of what had happened"). Over the years, more projects consume Child A and Child B—what art lovers (and their parents) call the children—but it is not until the parents disappear from an interstate rest stop that the lines separating art and life dissolve. Though leavened with humor, the closing chapters still face hard truths about family relationships, which often leave us, like the grown-up Buster and Annie, wondering if we are constructing our own lives, or merely taking part in others'. (Aug.)
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I love Nicole Kidman and how she can bring such diverse characters to life and Jason Bateman is an actor I enjoy a lot as well.
I did enjoy the novel... it's definitely an original concept of selfish narcissistic bad parenting like no other story I've seen or read before.
I could definitely see Nicole Kidman and Jason Bateman and Christopher Walken played as these characters.
I'm incredible curious to see the visual version and kudos to the author for his imagination in this story.
Caleb and Camille Fang are parents to Annie and Buster, or "Child A" and "Child B". They are performance artist who stage elaborate (and often hilarious) pranks in the name of art, using their children as props. Sometimes Annie and Buster are in on the plan, but often they are only aware that something bad is going to happen - their anxiety and their natural reactions, usually filmed and screened later, are part of the "art". Needless to say, this is cruel and leads to less than healthy adult psyches for Annie and Buster, who grow up to be a Hollywood actress and a writer, respectively.
Although this doesn't sound funny, it truly is, and it is mostly written from the perspectives of Annie and Buster, shifting from their childhood to the present - Buster is recovering from being shot in the face by a potato gun and Annie is hiding out from some bad PR moves in Hollywood, when their parents go missing; blood is found, the pattern is similar to that of other crimes in the area. Are Caleb and Camille staging something, or are they really dead? Annie and Buster have a unique shared "Fang" experience, and a love/hate relationship with the upbringing that made them who they are and also screwed them up (kind of like we all do, but on a much grander scale).
Camille and Caleb Fang, the husband and wife team at the center of Wilson's novel, are presented as performance artists so outré as almost to inhabit an alternate universe (as it happens, Hazzard County, Tennessee). Perfectly matched in the belief that all conventional art is dead, the Fangs dedicate themselves to the premise that art must move, must unfold in ways unknown and unexpected. In short, their performance pieces ambush the spectator to create chaos. That these pieces are frequently dangerous--staged shootings, near self-immolations, motorcycle stunts, fake robberies--is a risk Caleb and Camille accept as necessary to lives dedicated to creating art. The unexpected arrival of children, however--first daughter Annie and then son Buster--puts a crimp in the Fang master plan. That is, until the new parents discover that it is possible to intertwine family and art so tightly that they cannot be untangled.
This premise takes root in an early scene when Annie, still a babe in arms, is so frightened by a department store Santa that she inspires a shopping mall-wide pandemonium. Camille, new to motherhood and confused in the face of her child's distress, remarks, "She's a baby, Caleb," to which Caleb replies, "She's a Fang. That supersedes everything else."
It is a seminal moment. Rather than parental concern, the new parents experience awe: Annie can make things move. Children, it seems, can be made into art.
Soon the family foursome is trolling shopping malls, restaurants, and other venues throughout the Southeast in pursuit of the artistic moment. Indeed, Annie and Buster, now referred to by their parents (not always affectionately) as child "A" and child "B," play important (sometimes well rehearsed, sometimes impromptu) roles in these family set pieces--performances that Wilson presents as vignettes interspersed throughout his novel. A brief sampling:
· "Crime and Punishment, 1985" (candy store theft exposed);
· "The Last supper, 1985" (French restaurant encounters of the emetic kind);
· "The Portrait of a Lady, 1988" (Fang progeny hijacks beauty pageant; but which child is it--A or B?)
But even the best-matched artistic troupes can fall apart when one or more cast members feels excluded from the creative process. For the family Fang, that moment arrives via Shakespeare and a high school production ("More Woe, 1995") that features the Fang siblings in starring roles (to say any more would be to spoil the fun).
Soon A and B go on to separate careers--Annie, not surprisingly, to semi-success as a Hollywood movie actress, Buster to a lack-luster career as a freelance journalist and experimental novelist. Yet neither can escape the Fang legacy, an inheritance that seems to drive them in to acting on their worst instincts.
Years later, after separate but equally spectacular career blunders, the siblings are brought together again under their parents' roof and soon find themselves unwitting participants in what looks to be another Fang piece--perhaps their parents greatest yet--that may or may not have been planned. Angry at what might be another artistic shut out, fearful that their parents may actually have abandoned them physically as well as emotionally this time, A & B undertake detective work aimed at thwarting what they hope is supposed to be their parents artistic masterpiece (much of what follows in this section of the novel falls into red herring territory but is nonetheless entertaining).
Without giving away too much about the novel's conclusion, Wilson provides some evidence that Annie and Buster have begun to emerge from their abnormally prolonged adolescences. As is often the case when children negotiate the transition to adulthood, the Fang siblings are increasingly shaped by their meaningful peer relationships. Apparently there are ways and means (like maybe falling in love?) of giving way to one's worst instincts--instincts that run deep in the Fang gene pool--and still surviving.
Perhaps it is a musical ditty sung by A & B in one of the family's earliest performance pieces, and which shows up for a return engagement at novel's end, that best captures Annie's and Buster's maturation process--albeit in language that only a Fang would likely appreciate:
"It's a sad world. It's unforgiving," the lyrics proclaim. "Kill all parents, so you can keep living," its sometimes metaphoric, and sometimes not, admonition.
Jack Andrew Urquhart is the author of several works of fiction, including So They Say Collected Stories.