Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book #69: The Family Fang

The Fang Family are a strange lot. The parents are artists of the most absurd kind--all of their artwork exists in the reactions of innocent bystanders to their chaotic yet intricately planned "performances." The children, Annie and Buster, were fundamental parts of these pieces from their infancy. In fact, much of the American art world knows them primarily as Child A and Child B, young participants in the Fang madness. All of that strange art could really mess with a child, don't you think?

That's where the present-day of the novel takes place, with Annie and Buster trying to shed their histories and instead live normal lives--at least as normal as a Fang might expect. Annie is now a somewhat famous and talented actress who has a penchant for making very poor personal choices, and Buster is a novelist-turned-struggling-freelance writer who cannot make an emotional investment in anything. Suddenly Annie and Buster, despite their best intentions, find themselves living with their parents again. The elder Fangs take this reunion to mean the four Fangs are back as an absurdist art team, but Annie and Buster don't want a part of that life--they want to be more than just Child A and Child B in their parents' impersonal and emotionally cruel art pieces. Then the Fang parents disappear. Is is kidnapping, or is it art? Annie and Buster are left to sort things out for themselves.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is a fantastically strange, melancholic, and hopeful read. Each chapter is prefaced by a description of some past Fang family art piece--the burning house, the punk band, the theatrical performance--that really fleshes out the psyches of each member of the family. Moments in the books were unbelievably funny, and I found myself laughing out loud quite unexpectedly. Other moments, however, make the reader ponder what is acceptable while in pursuit of an aesthetic ideal. Add on the obvious discussion of what constitutes art and you've got a whole lot of talking points.

I am going to try to get my library to pick up this title for one of its book clubs, but I hope someone I know reads it soon so that we can discuss. I would suggest this book to you to read if you enjoy novels with strange yet somehow extremely endearing characters, fiction looking at relationships between parents and children, or books that provide a lens for thinking about art.

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