The Family Fang: Book Review

by holditnow

Child A and Child B are the titles that Caleb and Camille Fang bestowed on their children: Annie and Buster. Needless to say, Annie and Buster aren’t too jazzed about these particular monikers or a number of other things that their parents have foisted upon them as they were growing up; all done in the name of art. Having famous performance artists for parents may sound like a dream come true for some, but these Fangs have teeth and sometimes they bite.

What people can get away with all in the name of Art can make you think twice. Artists have free reign to shock, amaze, horrify, titillate, entertain, bore, critique and push the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable.This is exactly what we want our artists to do. They are often the ones out on the front-lines pushing things forward. They make the large sacrifices of body and spirit to keep the gears spinning. We appreciate their hard work in the safety of galleries or the spontaneous happenings in public places but how far can you go in the name of art? Is there any sacrifice too large?

Joseph Beuys‘ Coyote: I like America and America likes Me would be an example of a sacrifice not a lot of us would be willing to make. It takes a certain level of commitment to lock yourself in a gallery with a live coyote to make a statement  about a country you’ve never visited and have it as your only experience of that place. Beuys’ performance is thought provoking, beautiful and a little crazy. The problem with crazy is that there are different types of crazy: good crazy and bad crazy. Artists like Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney are the right kind of crazy. They have singular visions that are both complex and well executed.

On the other end of the spectrum, some performance pieces can veer into the realm of weird for weird’s sake or fall into the category a friend of mine from art school coined called: ‘poo-poo clever’. Most poo-poo clever pieces adhere to all the nouveau art speak and hit all the marks but never get beyond the ‘that’s interesting’ in a really boring way. Making art is difficult at the best of times but performing it just adds a whole new dimension. Luckily for us, you would never accuse the Fang family of being poo-poo clever. They approach Art with a Coyote level of enthusiasm.

Kevin Wilson paints a picture of a family where there is never a dull moment. The story is told in the present day from the perspective of  Annie and Buster peppered with flashbacks chronicling various performance pieces executed by the family over the years. The Fangs revel in the mayhem they cause and to them all the world’s a stage. After experiencing some unexpected setbacks in their personal lives both Child A and Child B find themselves once again under the roof of their parents’ Tennessee home. Will the kids participate in the grandest performance of their parents’ lives or do some wounds run too deep?

The Family Fang explores unconventional family dynamics  in delightful and unexpected ways. Kevin Wilson deftly combines moments of laugh out loud humour with elements of raw emotion. The author leaves you with more questions than answers which is a testament to the fondness you feel for these characters. In the end, I’m not sure if the Family Fang are the good crazy or bad crazy but that’s all part of the performance.