Psychologists call it “family of origin“. Really, they’re the people on whom you imprinted: those who gave you your adult world view or against whom you rebelled. But if you believe there’s such a thing as a “happy family“, you were born in a test tube and raised in a cave by wolves. Some families are less weird than others, that’s all.
Setting aside all physically abusive families, the Fang family is perhaps the weirdest one I’ve ever read about. Caleb and Camille are artists, MacArthur Geniuses, grant winners, gallery darlings. Their medium? Human confusion and anger. Their canvas–any place they can set people against one another or cause distress. Like Sasha Baron-Cohen, they find the outer limit of what people will tolerate, then push them past it. Unfortunately, they decide to use their children to create the chaos they engender.
Annie and Buster, or “Child A” and “Child B” as they were known in the art world, are now grown. Annie is a successful actor on the verge of her breakthrough into Oscar contention when a director calls for an unexpected topless scene. Annie’s response puts her on the Web and into the tabloids, and her response to that causes her to flee Hollywood. Buster is an unsuccessful novelist working as a freelance writer. When he’s severely injured in the course of writing an article, he reverts to a Fang-style escape and runs for cover. Both wind up at their parents’ home, the one place they swore they’d never return. But.
Well, Camille and Caleb have a project on their calendar, so they take off to the big city. And on the way they…disappear. Their bloodstained car is found at a rest area, but no sign of them. Bitter and suspicious, Annie spots it as another panic-inducing art piece. Buster wavers between Annie’s view and believing that Camille and Caleb are dead, Together, brother and sister grope their way through the following days, uncertain how to continue their own lives.
Interspersed in the current-day stories are titled pieces from the Fang family’s career, giving the reader a picture of their methods and results. The projects become stranger the deeper the story goes, and as A and B become more integral to the work, the projects become more manipulative of them, to the point that Caleb and Camille become passive bystanders in the situations they force the children into. With each revelation, Annie’s fierce independence and Buster’s uncertainty become more understandable.
Kevin Wilson is scarily creative when it comes to envisioning the Fang art, perhaps even more so in developing his storyline. He also raises a lot of questions that make excellent fodder for contemplation and discussion. What is Art? What is an Artist? What is a family? What is child abuse? At what point can a person be described as “grown up”? So much packed into a beautifully written, imaginative book that it’s no wonder it made so many “Best Book of the Year” lists.
Check the WRL catalog for The Family Fang
Also coming soon as a Gab Bag for reading groups