Book number 40: The Family Fang by K. Wilson. Thank you Elaine for the ebook. 🙂
What it is: Whimsical, blowzy, chaotic, these are the words that come to mind to describe The Family Fang. The parents, Caleb and Camille, are “experimental performance artists” involved in a form of “guerilla theater“. Basically, “they make something crazy happen and then they watch you try to deal with it” making the reaction to their so-called art the art itself. They shoot people, stage fake marriage, walk in and out of a burning house and so on all in the name of art. To make it worse, they use their children, Annie and Buster, as props and use them however they want in “creating a situation in order to elicit an extreme emotional response from those closest to the event” and use the kids so bad it traumatizes them – a testament to the older Fangs’ commitment “to cause chaos no matter whom it hurt” and pride to be “the only ones in the whole world who knew what was happening.”
The story is one battle of wills between the parents and the children who have outgrown the art their parents perform and are struggling to get a shot at normal life outside of being the Fang children and it is also an exposition of the effects of bad parenting. It also takes you to decide what you think of art and which one you prefer – the moving one or those contained in a white box. At the end of it, you end up being a judge on how acceptable the stunts of Caleb and Camille are – is it art or are they just insane?
What I liked about it: The commitment to the arts that the Fangs exhibit is remarkable. I imagine if sane people have that much commitment then the world will be very rich and cultured. My favorite Fang is Buster and I relate to him in the sense that his process of writing is the same as mine: you get things on your head even if you don’t want to and the only logical thing to do is write them down to take them out. The stunts the Fangs pull are also interesting though dangerous sometimes. I think the best one in The Family Fang is where Annie and Buster perform horribly on the mall to get money for their ill dog and the older Fangs “distort the world” by shouting the kids are terrible and the other onlookers take sides.
What I didn’t like about it: What the Fangs do in The Family Fang can be called art one way and the other way is scamming and lying to others with “no expectations other than to cause unrest.” It’s remarkable how little the characters “seem to care about the psychic and sometimes physical pain that accompanies their performances” which led me to doubt how believable the entire plot is because I’m not certain people in their right minds do not wish to “deform the lives of those around them so that their idea could take shape, be willed into existence.” I’m not entertained by the narration too and the plot has a tendency to be too simplistic, predictable, and sometimes ridiculous. I get the emphasis on art, the family problem, the childhood trauma, but it’s just okay and even the twist at the end failed to impress. I liked Kill Two Birds and Get Stoned better, something on the same line.
Recommended for: those who like family type general fiction reads and strange, artsy type characters, read The Family Fang.