Sunday, November 27, 2011

Bittersweet Family Tale

Book Reviewed:  The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson

The last book I blogged about came by the recommendation of a friend.  My latest read was also recommended to me by a friend.  If there was an award for the person in my life with the best book advice, it's Amy.  (After all, she talked me into The Book Thief and turned me into a Captain Wentworth girl).  And she once again hit the nail on the head when she told me she thought I'd like Kevin Wilson's first novel, The Family Fang. 

The Family Fang is a story about family and art and how those things do or don't intersect.  Caleb and Camille Fang are famous performance artists who use chaos to create reactions that they deem "art."  They force their children, Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B), to join them.  The book revolves around the now grown-up Annie and Buster, who still show irreparable damage from their years of being involved in horrifying art projects.  At the book's beginning, Annie is a somewhat famous actress whose reputation has begun to spiral out of control.  Meanwhile, Buster, a freelance journalist, has been shot in the face with a potato gun.  With no money to pay his medical bills, he moves back in with his parents, whose performance pieces have gotten less popular and more pathetic over time.  Eventually, Annie comes home to lick her wounds, too.  Then, just as Annie and Buster get used to their sad new lives, their parents disappear.  Are they dead, or is it just another one of their art projects?

Kevin Wilson somehow manages to skirt the fine line between tragedy and comedy, never straying too far into one side.  The flashback chapters show some of the performance pieces the Fang family took part in, and they are masterfully done.  I literally could not stop cringing through the flashbacks.  They make you feel impossibly bad for A and B.  The book's other chapters take turns in the third-person-narrated worlds of Annie And Buster.  I couldn't help but love the awkward and luckless Buster, although I do think Annie was a better-drawn and more complex character.  The book's resolution is extremely bittersweet, and I'm still not sure I'm on board with it (I'm talking about the penultimate chapter; I liked the last chapter a lot).  Without giving anything away, let's just say that I was surprised by how dark Wilson was willing to go with his portrayal of Caleb and Camille. 

Although I found the ending a little rushed, I really enjoyed The Family Fang.  It's funny, sad, and well-written, a perfect way to spend a long weekend. 


  1. I'm so glad you found this book intriguing. I know what I would write a paper on if I had read it at DePauw.

    Also, fun fact: Dr. Seuss and Hemingway hung out at least a little bit in Paris. I learned that at a museum today. :)

  2. That is a very fun fact, indeed. I just love imagining it!