Published by Ecco on 2011
When your parents are famous artists, it’s difficult to have a normal childhood. When those parents are Caleb and Camille Fang, an artistic duo whose claim to fame is their orchestration of chaos, it’s difficult to escape childhood without expensive therapy. Enter Annie and Buster, Caleb and Camille’s children, also known as Child A and Child B for their (reluctant) roles in their parents’ artistic pieces.
Now adults, Annie and Buster have both pursued artistic careers. As Annie tells her brother when they are younger,
“You need to find something, like playing the guitar or writing novels or arranging flowers,” she told him, “so that you can see that creating something doesn’t have to be as fucked up as Caleb and Camille make it seem.”
Annie is now a semi-famous actress and Buster is a writer/freelance journalist. However, when Buster’s second novel fails to impress the critics and he is injured in an impulsive attempt at gonzo journalism, he returns home to recuperate. Soon after he is reunited with his parents, they are joined by Annie, who has screwed up her film career through a few flawed judgement calls.
With all four members of the Family Fang back under the same roof, Caleb and Camille are intent upon re-launching their artistic careers, which have stagnated since their children moved away to pursue their own artistic endeavors. As Annie drinks away her unhappiness and Buster overmedicates, their parents are busy plotting their next piece. However, when Caleb and Camille vanish, leaving behind signs of a struggle, the police attribute their disappearance to foul play. Have they really been abducted, or are they, as Annie and Buster suspect, staging their most elaborate performance yet? Will Annie and Buster find their missing parents? Are their attempts to find Caleb and Camille merely playing into their parents’ expectations and actually part of the stunt? Will the younger Fangs rebuild their broken lives?
I really, really enjoyed this book. Wilson’s writing is lively and vibrant, and he does a great job of bringing his main characters to life: Annie, the starlet angry at her parents and resentful of the way they have used her for their own conception of art, and Buster, the sensitive writer who longs for love and reconciliation but holds back from life. Caleb and Camille, the artists who put art before everything else, however, felt much flatter to me. We only see one side to them, and that is the side that is constantly planning their next performance and going on tirades about how conventional art is dead, yadda yadda.
The Family Fang was a really fun read. The story is kind of whimsical without ever becoming too light; the tone is darkened by the underlying resentment Annie and Buster feel toward their parents and the looming mystery of Caleb and Camille’s disappearance. The children have a complicated relationship with their parents, which brings some weight to the story.
The one thing I didn’t like about this novel was Caleb and Camille’s attitude toward their children. I found it really hard to believe that parents would put art before their children ALWAYS. I was shocked to read how badly they harmed their children psychologically in the name of art. One example of many is the family’s dinner out at a fancy French restaurant: Caleb and Camille make young Buster so nervous that he throws up. Only after the dinner do they reveal that that had been their intention all along; they made their child throw up in public for the sake of disrupting the normal — for the sake of their art. It was sick, and I couldn’t believe parents would really do that to their children.
Overall, I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for something entertaining and a little quirky but not too light. The story is both funny and tragic, an exploration of art and family, and it was a lot of fun to read!