Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson: My take on the book (GRRRR!)


God, I hate these people! I cant believe I bothered reading an entire book about them. A pair of horrible, self-centered performance artists who use their kids as props for their all-important—and incredibly boring to read about—performance art pieces. A pair of siblings so screwed up and riddled with self-doubt that even as adults they continue to maintain a pathetic push-pull response to their parents that made me sad at first, then drove me mad.

Heres the lowdown on the book from the authors website:
Mr. and Mrs. Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief.
Performance artists Caleb and Camille Fang dedicated themselves to making great art. But when an artist’s work lies in subverting normality, it can be difficult to raise well-adjusted children. Just ask Buster and Annie Fang. For as along as they can remember, they starred (unwillingly) in their parents’ madcap pieces. But now that they are grown up, the chaos of their childhood has made it difficult to cope with life outside the fishbowl of their parents’ strange world.
When the lives they’ve built come crashing down, brother and sister have nowhere to go but home, where they discover that Caleb and Camille are planning one last performance—their magnum opus—whether the kids agree to participate or not. Soon, ambition breeds conflict, bringing the Fangs to face the difficult decision about what’s ultimately more important: their family or their art.
Filled with Kevin Wilson’s endless creativity, vibrant prose, sharp humor, and keen sense of the complex performances that unfold in the relationships of people who love one another, The Family Fang is a masterfully executed tale that is as bizarre as it is touching.
The book came out in 2009 to all kinds of love. I finally picked it up because I knew the long-in-the-works film by Jason Bateman, costarring Nicole Kidman, Christopher Walken and Maryann Plunkett was making its debut at the Toronto Internation Film Festival and might be getting distribution soon. I’m not familiar with Plunkett, but I usually love Bateman, Kidman and Walken, so I was intrigued. Now I’m wondering why they bothered. 
Because if I feel like I wasted my time reading about them—and I do—imagine how they must feel having labored through an entire 3 month production schedule with these prize pieces of work? Look, I get dysfunctional families. I come from one. For all I know, one day my son will say he came from one too. But this takes dysfunctional to a whole new level. If it’s supposed to be black comedy, I didn’t get it. I thought the characters would be quirky, comic. Instead they were tiresome, tedious. 
Mostly I got as tired as the grown up kids, Annie and Buster    (their parents refer to them as A and B) do of their own lives, tethered to their parents’ dreams. When the parents,  Caleb and Camille, disappear, instead of shouting Hallelujah! the two go back and forth, and back and forth, about what to do. Finally they go on a search for Mr and Mrs Fang, each with different motives. Interspersed are chapters devoted to the so-called art pieces their parents perpetrated on an unsuspecting public with the often unscripted help of A and B. Each of these pieces ends with the crowd looking and feeling confused while the parents, Caleb and Camille, are overjoyed with the execution of a beautiful, subversive, guerrilla work of art. While I dutifully read page after page, as roped in by the promise of brilliance as Annie and Buster, I put the book down far too easily. I had hope for the siblings, they had some interesting top notes but in the end they failed to speak to me, to move me, and I ended the book realizing it was those confused audiences that I related to most fully. 

The aspect of the book I found of real interest was the reference to the real artist, Chris Burden, a Topanga-based artist who passed away earlier this year. His Urban Lights graces the front of LACMA, while the museum boasts several other pieces within its walls. Burden is well known for pushing the boundaries of art, being at the beginning of the performance art movement, with his most controversial piece taking place in 1971 when he had himself shot in the arm as part of a gallery piece in Santa Ana. For more info on Burden, whose Urban Lights, draws Los Angelenos out of their cars, start with this Los Angeles Times obituary.


1 comment:

  1. I've never heard of this book, or the movie adaptation... I'm not sure that I'd be keen on either now.

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