In Kevin Wilson’s debut novel, we are introduced to a peculiar family of performance artists, the Fangs. Caleb and Camille Fang, artistic directors and (to a lesser extent) parents, create pieces - or maybe happenings? - aimed at stirring frenzied responses from unwitting bystanders in public places. Think Punk’d as funded by a MacArthur Genius Grant. Their accomplices are Child A and Child B (Annie and Buster), the Fang children, who have grown up only knowing this bizarre and insular environment and struggle with their familial obligation to wreak havoc in the name of art.
When you pick up The Family Fang, the first thing you might notice is that the cover image seems allusive to a Wes Anderson movie, and while I’m no marketing guru, my guess is that the nod was intentional (also the blurb on the back likening it to a Wes Anderson movie was a tip-off). The book is rife with Andersonian touches: quirky melancholics, off-kilter academics, vain depressives, and unmanageable artists begetting world weary children – the whole shebang, really. I don’t want my mentioning the similarities to come off as a slight, because it’s a fantastic book, but it should just be noted that the Fangs’ family tree shares a common root system with the Tenenbaums.
Each chapter alternates between the past and present (a favored device of authors these days), jumping between scenes of the early Fangs, an inseparable band of ne’er-do-wells, and then twenty years later when Child A and B have grown up and moved out, having purposefully distanced themselves from their parents and the Fang Family brand of art. Annie went on to become an Oscar-nominated actress and Buster a noted novelist. Unfortunately, neither Fang child stayed ascendant for long, both buckling under personal drama (such as Buster being shot in the face), and they each return home for a chance to recuperate. Soon after the homecoming, though, A and B find themselves again enmeshed in Caleb and Camille’s art-at-all-costs hijinks.
The Family Fang is a funny read - not in the fits of laughter sense, but more along the lines of dryly conceding aloud “that’s funny.” Still, humorous fiction can be hard to come by, and Mr. Wilson’s efforts are much appreciated.
Ransom - Reference