The plot and characters in The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, are full of surprises. Grown-up siblings Annie and Buster Fang end up back home with their parents when both their lives implode in creative ways. Buster, while writing for a macho magazine, was shot with a potato gun, doing serious injury to his face. Actress Annie shed some extra clothes on a movie set and got blacklisted. Adrift and in need, they naturally return home.
But coming home for them is no staid Norman Rockwell gathering. Annie and Buster Fang grew up being conduits for their parents’ eccentric artistic visions. Chapters describe parents Caleb and Camille Fang’s disturbing performance art events with their children, stage-named Child A and Child B. The elder Fangs tightly tangled their family and their art, and, not surprisingly, the children are “messed up.” Funny, thoughtful and disturbing, this novel tests the boundaries of how most of us define art and family.
While home, Annie and Buster have to put their lives back together and reconcile their relationships with their parents. But then their parents suddenly disappear and are supposedly murdered at a rest stop. Brother and sister turn detectives to try to find out the truth about their parents’ lives. Are they really dead or is this another stunt? Their lives turn into a version of Orson Welles’ movie thriller, The Third Man.
I admired the Fang parents’ ability to survive and never swerve from their vision, but Annie and Buster are correct in saying that some of their stunts were mean-spirited--although maybe ironically, Annie and Buster are both artists in their own rights because or perhaps in spite of their parents.