Caleb and Camille Fang are performance artists who like to use their kids as human props for the nerviest, most chaos-inducing stunts that they can devise. They refer to the children, Annie and Buster, as “Child A” and “Child B.” Wilson explores the damage inflicted on children raised in an atmosphere that is intentionally confusing. They have been told that their parents do important things; they have been told that their own feelings do not matter. They have learned the hard way that either of them might be betrayed in an instant by parents who bring a lofty, arty, guilt-free approach to everything they do. So as “The Family Fang” begins, Wilson shows just how badly the adult Annie and Buster have been damaged by Fang ideas of fun. He also makes it clear that the senior Fangs can be amusing. And then, all of a sudden, they are not.
As adults wherever the Fang children go, they encounter situations that make them re-examine their parents’ values. Buster is a journalist, sort of. He has been working for a men’s magazine called Potent, for an editor who is seven years younger but still likes to tell him what “manly” means. “After two years of writing about skydiving and bacon festivals and online virtual-reality societies that were too complicated for him to even play, Buster was on the verge of quitting his job,” Mr. Wilson writes. For one assignment Buster had a two-hour argument with his editor about whether to participate in a group orgy that he had been assigned to cover. Annie has grown up to be a film actress. This, in her parents’ minds, means that she has become a willing participant in a lowly art form that is not worth her time. And Annie is a pawn to whoever gives her orders.
Annie and Buster don’t know what, if anything, about their own lives has actually been real. They now know that one of their most excruciatingly shared moments, in which Buster was forced to play Romeo to his sister’s Juliet at the last minute and had to kiss her in public, was just another one of their parents’ little tricks.
An interesting read despite the weak ending. It should have ended ten pages sooner.