Book Review: “The Family Fang” by Kevin Wilson

I was required to read The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson for college, and finished in just two days. Equal parts hilarious and touching, this novel has a great amount of depth and soul, with fully developed characters and an incredibly original plot line. Although a bit offbeat, I would highly recommend this book to anyone — it’s easy to read, but the prose is excellent and the story not one to be missed.

The novel, which alternates between past and present, centers around the Fang family — parents Camille and Caleb, and their two children, Annie (Child “A”) and Buster (Child “B”). Camille and Caleb are performance artists who seek to create chaos and, in effect, something that they call beauty. At one point in the novel, Caleb muses to himself:

“The act is not the art,” he told himself. “The reaction is the art.” (page 166)

Many of the public acts they commit are incredibly bizarre, only stirring up trouble and undoubtedly disturbing the people around them, whose spontaneous reactions the Fang art depends on (one such example: the book opens with a scene in which Camille attempts to steal a ludicrous amount of jelly beans from a candy store, with the intent of getting caught). In the flashbacks throughout the book, Caleb and Camille use their children as props in their pieces, often forcing them into strange and often dangerous situations all in the name of art.

The present-day plot focuses on Annie and Buster who, now adults, have to deal with the irreparable consequences of a childhood of forced participation in their parents’ art projects. Annie is a fairly established actress with a bad publicity streak and Buster, a struggling writer. After several unfortunate turns of events, Annie and Buster find themselves living again with the parents they haven’t spoken to in years. At this point, the novel changes pace — losing some of its earlier hilarity as the reader becomes more invested in the lives of its characters. Annie and Buster must confront their past again, and observe how their parents’ art has evolved since losing “A and B.”

There are many unexpected twists and turns in this novel, all of which reveal something deeper about the characters. Wilson has deftly crafted a story that is truly brought to life by its protagonists — a story which is entertaining and engaging on the surface, but also one which delves into moral issues underneath. It is soulful, witty, and packed with originality, while at the same time managing to be incredibly thought-provoking. This is a can’t-miss novel with a lot of heart, and I would recommend it to anyone.

{Source: Image from wilsonkevin.com.}

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4 thoughts on “Book Review: “The Family Fang” by Kevin Wilson

  1. Hey, had to leave a comment as I read this a while ago – mainly because I’m called Annie and my cat is called Buster but that’s besides the point… I liked the book as much as you seem to, thought it had great pacing and very readable. I did feel the characters were a bit flat or contrived sometimes, but maybe that was intentional as a result of their bizarre childhood – surely that would make them either flat or contrived?

    • Hmm, interesting point. I personally didn’t find them flat or contrived, but perhaps this stems from the fact that the events surrounding them are so unique and unprecedented. In many ways, they are tossed into some pretty crazy situations. I thought the characters overall were strong — maybe because I think that they’re easy to identify with, oddly enough — but I can see how it could be interpreted differently.

      Halie

      • Fair enough! It’s been a while since I read the book so I may be remembering it wrongly. I think I had issues with Buster’s character more than Annie’s, I felt there was something lacking in him that I couldn’t put my finger on. I may give it a re-read though and see if my opinion’s changed.

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