Dysfunction as an Artform: Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang
Tolstoy wrote, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."
Well, what about the dysfunctional ones? Where do they fall on the Tolstoy spectrum? It's hard to imagine a family quite like The Family Fang, who give dysfunction new meaning in the hilarious and clever novel about family and artistic ambition from Kevin Wilson, the author of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth.
Caleb and Camille Fang place their art above all else, including their two children, Annie and Buster (aka Child A and Child B). Fearful that their children would destroy their art, Caleb and Camille did what any sensible parents would do -- they made their children a part of their art.
Art, for the Fangs, is defined by creating something that wasn't there before. "Something" usually implies the chaos of those around them in the wake of one of their infamous events. No public space is safe from the Fangs, whether it be causing a scene at the mall, staging a marriage proposal on an airplane (what will the crowd do when the woman publicly refuses her suitor?), or putting their children in a wildly inappropriate position during their high school production of "Romeo and Juliet."
When the Fang children grow into adults, they put as much distance -- emotional and physical -- as possible between them and their parents. Each pursues their own forms of art: Annie becomes an actress and Buster a writer. But their past follows them and, eventually, their personal and professional lives implode. In Annie's case, it's a scandal that could destroy her Hollywood career, and in Buster's, an incident with a potato gun gone awry while on assignment for a magazine. They must return to the nest, even though they've vowed to never again participate in one of their parents' projects. When their parents go missing, it's unclear if this is the real thing -- or just another one of their pranks.
Full of humor and invention, the novel examines the meaning of art and family, while raising interesting questions about the place of artistic ambition within family, or society in general. Is Caleb's mentor right -- do children kill art? Or is there a way for art and family to co-exist? At what cost?
You may not have been loaned out to the circus, but anyone can sympathize with the Fangs as they grapple with the idiosyncrasies of the people they may not have chosen themselves, but are family anyway.