Thursday, August 11, 2011

Review: The Family Fang

Summary: Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. 

Their children called it mischief. 

Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as long as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world. 

When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance–their magnum opus–whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.
Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching. -- Ecco

THE FAMILY FANG by Kevin Wilson is truly one of the most original and refreshing novels that I've read in some time. It's been getting some terrific buzz, but when I read Entertainment Weekly's recent review, it pretty much sealed it for me -- I just had to read it! EW is one of my go-to sources for book recommendations, as many of you already know. They gave it a B+ which is a pretty good grade from them, but I especially loved how quirky the book sounded.

And quirky it was -- most definitely. But in such a great way. I adored THE FAMILY FANG from the characters, to their crazy antics, to the humorous situations, to the touching ones; and I was a little bit surprised by just how much this book touched me. What I found so delightful about THE FAMILY FANG is that it was hilarious -- really, truly funny; and then just a few pages later (maybe even a few sentences later), I would find that I had a big ol' lump in my throat because my heart was breaking. I just loved how much this book entertained me, played with my emotions, and made my think!

THE FAMILY FANG tells the story of...wait for it...the Fang family! Parents Caleb and Camille are famous performance artists and they will do almost anything for the sake of art. Children Buster and Annie were included in their parents' "shows," and there is no doubt that they were deeply affected by this lifestyle. Needless to say, Buster and Annie couldn't wait to leave their parents behind and start their own lives; however, they both find themselves back at home, with their parents, after some zany mishaps. (Hint: Buster was shot in the face with a potato gun and Annie walked around topless on her movie set!)

Once Buster and Annie are back at home, they realize that they do love and need their parents. But they are both extremely cautious about being sucked back into the family business.When Caleb and Camille (possibly) plan their grandest performance ever, the kids find that they can't help but get involved. Through their roles in this final performance, they discover many truths about their parents, their family, the meaning of art, and even themselves.

One particular thing that I loved about this novel was how the story was told. The chapters alternated between the present day (Buster and Annie's stories) and flashbacks of the past. While I did find a certain charm to both Buster and Annie despite their flaws, I really loved the flashback chapters. These chapters gave examples of the absolutely crazy antics that the Fang Family did in the name of their art. For example, one of their performances involved Buster impersonating a girl and winning a beauty pageant! I found these sections to be hilarious because they were so ridiculous, and I loved how the author slipped in a few zingers about the absurdity of some art forms.

Just based on the premise of the novel, you can see that it has the potential to be highly entertaining. However, I also mentioned that it affected me and made me think. In many ways, the Fang family represented all families -- how the parents' actions ultimately affect the children. While the Fang parents were a very extreme case, and Buster and Annie were definitely more affected than most children, it did make me think a bit about my role as a parent. In addition, it just broke my heart how conflicted Buster and Annie were. On one hand, they loved their parents and seeked their approval, but on the other hand, they wanted to be their own selves and distance themselves from their crazy parents. Isn't this an almost universal feeling for all adult children?

THE FAMILY FANG also touched on the idea that even when our parents possibly "mess us up," they also form some of the wonderful personality traits that make us special. For example, Buster and Annie both desired to express themselves as artists (Buster as a writer and Annie as a movie actress.) Would they have discovered their ability to entertain or produce a form of art if they hadn't grown up with parents who stressed these priorities? Ultimately, Buster and Annie realized that their parents helped forge them into the people they are today -- both the good traits and the not-so-good ones.

It should be pretty obvious by now that I think THE FAMILY FANG is an excellent book to discuss. There are truly more things to talk about than I can even touch upon in this review. I wasn't able to find a discussion guide, but that really shouldn't be an issue. Some of the topics you might want to explore are family dynamics, parent/child relationships, loyalty, love, forgiveness, acceptance, and individuality. In addition, you can't help but think about the definition of "art" -- i.e. what does art mean?, what (if any) are the ethical considerations of art?, what sacrifices should be made in the name of art?, etc.

If you are looking for an unusual, but incredibly well-written, novel about family dynamics, then I highly recommend THE FAMILY FANG!

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this novel.


Anonymous said...

You took a book that sounded a little to "out there" for me and made it sound like one I just have to read. Gtreat review!

bermudaonion said...

You always think kids who are raised by parents who choose an alternate lifestyle to be above the conflict of emotions everyone feels as they grow up. It sounds like this book shows we're all the same deep down inside. Great review!

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This does sound like a fantastic book club selection!

Sandy Nawrot said...

First EW, then Literate Housewife, now you? How can I not read this? It sounds like so much fun. And kind of nice knowing that maybe if I scre up my kids, they will still be contributing members of society!

Anonymous said...

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Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks said...

this is such a super book! You're always on the money when you go with those EW picks ...

I had the opportunity to meet Kevin a few months ago, he said something like "we need to ruin our kids just enough so that they go out and find themselves" ... which sounds like a pretty good philosophy on parenting to me (who is actively ruining her kids!)

Kailana said...

I am all for original books! I will have to look into this one.

Beth F said...

I too loved so much about this book. You did a great job on this review.

Unknown said...

Fantastic Review, Julie! I read about this book in a newsletter yesterday and was hoping to find a review by a trustworthy blogger so I was thrilled to see Thew Fang Family here on your blog. This story sounds wonderfully creative, unique and interesting! So glad you enjoyed it so much.

christa @ mental foodie said...

I am glad you, and many others, like this one much better than I do! This one just doesn't do it for me, I didn't even find it funny... my review: