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The Family Fang - Kevin Wilson There are oddball, dysfunctional families, and then there are the Fangs. Their oddness is a conscious choice on the part of parents Caleb and Camille, and on those grounds, they’'d probably dispute the “dysfunctional” label. The Fangs are artists, and their life is their art; and on those terms, they'’re pretty pleased with how it functions. Their children, Annie and Buster--participants in their parents’' artworks as “Child A” and “Child B,” but now no longer either participants or children--might beg to differ.

The Fang's’ art involves orchestrating unexpected behaviors on an unsuspecting public--literally, creating scenes (or, put less charitably, pulling stunts)--and surreptitiously capturing the response on film. The artwork isn't necessarily the event itself, but the reaction it creates; it’'s a variant of performance art in which the artist isn'’t the performer, but the director, and some of the performers are unaware that they even have roles. Annie and Buster, however, usually knew they were playing the part of the catalysts to the reaction...until they got old enough to refuse and left home. Perhaps not surprisingly, Annie becomes an actress, while Buster goes into writing; also not surprisingly, neither is terribly well-equipped for adulthood, and eventually they both end up returning to their parents'’ home to recover from setbacks. It also may not be too surprising that their parents aren’t entirely prepared for that development.

While I'’ve just said that certain elements in the storyline of The Family Fang are “not surprising (perhaps),” I don'’t mean it in the sense that they'’re predictable. Perhaps they are from an “understanding-human-nature” viewpoint, but overall, “predictable” is NOT an adjective I'’d use to describe this novel. “Oddball”--an adjective I applied earlier to the Fangs themselves--fits pretty well, though.

The Fangs'’ art is based on reaction, and my reaction to The Family Fang is mixed. Considering its Southern setting and art-world trappings, it has a lot of potential for quirk and wackiness, but it doesn'’t take those factors nearly as far as it could; I appreciate that, to be honest, and think it makes for a stronger novel. Some of that strength comes from the themes it explores and the questions it raises about art and living authentically and what families owe one another; there’'s some great book-club discussion fodder here. On the other hand, the premise of the novel has some off-putting elements, and the characters aren’t all that easy to like; those factors might make the book less appealing to groups.

I’'m really not sure what I expected from The Family Fang--charming eccentricity, maybe? I don'’t think it delivered that, really. Having said that, it did have an emotional depth I really didn’'t expect, along with some skewed humor and uncommon perspective. It’'s an oddball, and I didn'’t love it, but I have a feeling I'’ll remember it.