My favorite book of all time might well be Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, so when The Family Fang opened with a strange family doing odd performances, I knew this book was likely to be up my alley. Kevin Wilson’s debut novel is a quick and easy read and one I really didn’t want to end.
The plot concerns a family of artists, where the mother and father use their two children as props for their real-world artistic stunts, staging elaborate hijinks in the real world to elicit reactions from the unsuspecting public. This lifestyle naturally somewhat traumatizes the kids, who end up feeling like they are always somehow part of an approaching disaster staged by their parents. The four Fangs are delightful characters, though Buster and Annie are the most well-drawn (as they should be, I guess), with their parents seeming almost impenetrable in a way. Wilson has a gift for coming up with often hilarious stunts for the Fangs, and I looked forward to the end of each chapter, where another Fang piece would be detailed.
Sometimes I felt like Wilson was a little less imaginative, or a bit sloppy. Would a barber in Tennessee (or wherever they were) really tell someone he was going to make them look like Jean Seberg from Breathless? Really?! I don’t buy it. Also, there’s a reference to Annie’s boyfriend, a screenwriter, being “quickly on his way to becoming one of the most powerful people in Hollywood,” or something to that effect, which is completely ludicrous. Screenwriters are not, as a rule, powerful, and it seemed like Wilson was writing about a world he didn’t really know that well whenever he wrote about Hollywood. While the ideas for the Fang pieces are genuinely cool, the ideas for the screenplays and movies and video games he writes about are much less convincing. I hated every time I had to read about Fatal Flying Guillotine III, which is a fake video game that really makes the rounds in the book and just reads as a really cheeky invention by the author.
Furthermore, the ending to the story itself seemed way too abrupt and far too easy. I was captivated by the mystery, but the resolution left me wanting more. And I really didn’t like the final chapter, which seemed cheesy to me, almost treacle.
Overall, though, a fun read and an impressive debut.