The Family Fang

This week I read The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, a novel I mistakenly thought was YA. I gave it to my son, who has to put up with family members who occasionally engage in spontaneous street art. I thought he would be able to identify with the two protagonists who are the children of extreme performance artists.

Annie and Buster Fang are siblings who have been part of their parents Camille and Caleb's art since shortly after birth. One scene that particularly stands out in my memory is Caleb in a mall, carrying baby Buster on his chest. He has homemade flares in his clothing and fire and sparks fly as he walks calmly through the crowd. As the audience/bystanders freak out he ignores them and walks on, clothing now on fire. I know how I would react if I saw that and it would not be pretty. I have no idea why social services didn't take the children away, or at least investigate the situations they were thrust into.

The kids continue to participate in their parents art projects, often without knowing what was going to happen. You'll know it when you see it, reassures Camille, just before sending the children to wander alone, waiting for a mysterious signal. The children are known as Child A and Child B, serving further to disenfranchise them and alienate them from their own identities.

As the story begins both of them are grown and are struggling with the scars inflicted by their bizarre upbringing. Annie is an actress and Buster is a novelist who isn't writing any fiction. Instead he is writing articles that he doesn't seem to believe in for a magazine called Potent. Example: he had to watch and then write about the world's largest gang-bang. (I did think he brought an interesting perspective to the event, viewing the gang-bangee as an athlete. I think the art he did as a youngster helped him look at what happened in a nontraditional manner.) Annie is doing things that make her uncomfortable (shooting a topless scene) and Buster is seriously injured while researching an article.

The siblings end up back at their parents' house, adrift, confused and depressed. They aren't there long before something shocking occurs; something that leaves them unsure if the incident is real or another event their parents have planned. Annie and Buster will have to try to unravel a mystery that highlights their inability to tell the difference between reality and their parents' fantasies.

Mr. Wilson has written a novel that kept me laughing, even through gruesome and terrifying scenes. His sense of humor fits my own quite well, although I've seen plenty of people who did not find anything at all amusing in the book. They have my sympathy. It's a shame they missed out. Mixed in with the humor we have pathos, shock, horror and cringe-inducing situations. It's very easy to empathize with the siblings and worry about what will happen to them next.

In the end I think this novel is about the definition and value of art. Is something art just because we say it is? Can we make some kinds of art irrelevant by denouncing it as not being “real” art? Is art valuable to society? To individuals? How much is it worth? Is it important enough to risk harming people? What about your family? Your children? Interestingly I feel that Owen Wilson's new novel Double Feature, which I am about a quarter of the way through, discusses the same issues. Hopefully more about that book soon.

You can read an excerpt from The Family Fang here:

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is a short story by Kris Straub, which is posted at Ichor Falls, a site for q horror fans that is heavy on short stories. Candle Cove is written as a series of posts on a television nostalgia forum. Members are trying to remember/make sense of a dimly recalled children's show that sounds stranger and stranger as they type to each other. Candle Cove is a terrific story that takes a look at the human psyche while being very creepy. The direction the real life comments that follow the story take is fascinating.