The entire existence of Annie and Buster Fang can be defined by the following quote: “Children are not guaranteed the luxuries of family… If people are unable to exist within the parameters that have been created for them, they lose any claim to titles like son and daughter.”
“The Family Fang” is the debut novel of Kevin Wilson, a writer with an easy writing style, a unique imagination, and horrible taste in characters. His quirky and oddly funny story revolves around Annie and Buster, the now-grown-up children of Caleb and Camille Fang, “performance artists” with a strange idea of what constitutes art–spilling jelly beans all over a candy store’s floor and watching the ensuing confusion; walking through a shopping mall, cradling a baby while flares attached to your body are shooting off, giving you serious burns; and so on, each piece more absurd and ridiculous than the one before.
Caleb and Camille treat their children as props (often referred to as “Child A” and “Child B”), nothing more, and when they are no longer willing participants in their parents’ works, Annie and Buster are no longer important. These parents lack emotional depth; there are moments—only mere moments–when they appear capable of real human emotion, but for the most part these characters are flat and underdeveloped, only focused on their art. It does not matter what deep-seated damage they are creating inside the heads of their two impressionable kids, it is simply a by-product of their choreographed chaos. There is no grey area–Wilson clearly has us drawing sides against this single-minded pair, and didn’t bother to try to make them likeable in the least.
Breaking away as soon as they were able, Annie has become an actress with amazing promise and a proclivity to self-destruction, while her younger brother Buster is a writer who suddenly finds himself broke, bored, and the victim of a very painful and costly accident. When their respective worlds suddenly collapse, the two siblings turn back to the last people they expected, in hopes that the damage that had been done in childhood might yet be repaired–only to find themselves in a situation that scars them more deeply than ever.
Wilson focuses on two main questions: “How much damage can parents inflict on their children?”, and “How do we define art?” The differences in Caleb and Camille’s answers and the answers of Buster and Annie provide the central conflict in this darkly comic novel.
Recommended to fans of uncomfortable humor, dysfunctional families, and Wes Anderson films. The stories are funny, the points intriguing, but some of the characters come across as so false and one-note and just terrible, awful people that it makes the novel difficult to love.
“The Family Fang” by Kevin Wilson is available for purchase at Nicola’s Books, and for loan at all branches of the Ann Arbor District Library.