Kevin Wilson’s novel The Family Fang tells the story of performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang and their two children, Annie and Buster. Caleb and Camille are more like public disturbances: they appear in public spaces, most often shopping malls, and cause disruptions which, according to their artistic philosophy, result in moments of “beautiful spontaneity.” Since a young age Annie and Buster have participated, often against their will, in these performances, and are known simply in the art world as “Child A” and “Child B.”
The action of the novel follows Annie and Buster, now adults, as they attempt to reorganize their lives after a series of professional and personal catastrophes and come to grips with their unconventional upbringing. Interspersed throughout the novel are flashbacks to previous Family Fang pieces: an impromptu rock concert featuring Annie and Buster that goes purposefully awry when Caleb starts to heckle them; Buster, in drag, entering and winning a local beauty contest; Caleb and Camille handing out fraudulent free-sandwich coupons from a local chicken restaurant; Buster and Annie acting as the titular roles in a high school production of Romeo and Juliet. Nearly all of the Fang “happenings” involve humiliating Buster and Annie but the parents don’t seem to care. What is important to them, above all else, is creating their art. Caleb and Camille’s obsessive, sometimes heartless, behavior first drives Annie, the elder child, away to become an actress. Buster later leaves as well; he becomes a partially successful novelist who then falls on hard times and has to take freelance writing jobs for magazines.
At the outset of the novel both the careers of Buster and Annie are in freefall. Annie has become a movie star with a role in a prominent action-movie franchise, but she’s butting heads with the director of her current film who wants her to appear topless for a scene in the movie. Her eventual response causes commotion and controversy. Later, after Annie’s relationship with her female costar as well as her on-set antics make her tabloid fodder, a reporter for Esquire sets up an interview with Annie. Annie’s publicist advises her to be charming and not overly revealing but Annie ends up spilling her guts to the writer and then sleeping with him, further imperiling her career.
(The entire section is 1729 words.)
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