On the Bookseller’s Bookshelf: The Family Fang

The Family Fang is not a vampire book. (I’m not sure if it’s awesome or sad that vampire literature is so popular that I have to start that way.) It’s a novel about Caleb and Camille Fang, famous performance artists who involve their children, Annie and Buster (Child A and Child B, as they refer to the kids) in their art. The trouble is, that art is weird, disturbing and often dangerous. The bulk of the book is about Buster and Annie learning to deal with the ways their parents screwed them up.

The book is a fun, and sometimes sad, story about art and fame and growing up. The Fang dynamic is extreme, but the family and sibling relationships are real and relatable. After all, we’re all a little (or a lot) messed up by our parents, and we all look for ways to sort through which ideas are ours and which belong to Parental Unit 1 and Parental Unit 2. (Bizarrely, those are not monikers from the book … it’s how my dad sometimes referred to himself and my mother. Talk about weird families.)

The parents in the book sometimes behave pretty horrifically, but author Kevin Wilson wisely paints them neither as jesters nor as villains. Their dedication to art is extreme, but they say important things with their work (sometimes, anyway). Their obsession with creativity and social commentary borders on psychotic, but they do raise two children who become artists in their own right. And the ways Annie and Buster deal with the abuse aren’t perfect, either — and they shouldn’t be. Wilson’s story is real and honest, and it leaves us free to make our own moral conclusions, or to leave them out altogether. And you just might say, that’s the definition of art.

Carrie Rollwagen is co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books.

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