A is for Annie, B is for Buster...and D is for Dysfunctional

If you think your family’s dynamics are interesting, I invite you to meet the Fangs. 

In the novel The Family Fang, author Kevin Wilson relates the story of adult siblings Annie and Buster, respectively an aspiring actress and little-known novelist, whose professional and emotional lives have gone pretty much awry.  As the novel begins, Buster is accidentally shot in the face with a potato gun while researching a freelance article, resulting in severe injuries and an unmanageable medical bill.  For her part, Annie walks across a movie set topless and has an intimate encounter with a reporter who’s writing an article about her, both with disastrous results for her career. 

Annie and Buster’s parents are Caleb and Camille Fang, performance artists who included Annie and Buster in their pieces – as “Child A” and “Child B” -- throughout their childhoods.  In chapters which alternate between Annie and Buster’s present-day lives and the circumstances surrounding particular performance art pieces, we read about the long-term effects of a most unusual upbringing in which Caleb and Camille cajoled and even at least once deceived their children into performing art in stores and restaurants and on city sidewalks.

As adults, fresh from their recent missteps, Annie and Buster decide to move back in with their parents.  Both siblings have the notion that living under the same roof together might somehow help them to put their lives back together.  What Annie and Buster don’t anticipate, however, is the major change which shortly occurs in their parents’ lives. But is this change real or just a performance piece on a grand scale? 

How much do I love this insightful, wonderfully weird – in the best way possible -- and often hilarious novel?  Let’s just say that I’ve already given it to two friends and one cousin as birthday presents, something I only do with one or two favorite books each year.  If you’re interested in how childhood experiences affect our self-image and life trajectories or even just want to meet a few of the quirkiest characters you will ever come across, then I highly recommend The Family Fang to you too.  Wilson draws both Annie and Buster quite clearly, creating two likeable characters whose recurring self-doubt and fumbling mirrors our own, albeit magnified due to their odd upbringing. 

It’s hard to believe, but The Family Fang, named a “Best Book of the Year” by several publications, is Kevin Wilson’s first published novel.  He preceded it with his short story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth, an award-winning debut.  I eagerly await his next work, in whatever format he chooses. 

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