Despite its title, The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson’s first novel is not about a household of suburban vampires or werewolves. Thank heavens. The Fangs are an altogether creepier sort of clan: They’re artists. Caleb and Camille Fang are gallery darlings of a particularly discomfiting sort, staging public confrontations to provoke an extreme reaction from unwitting bystanders — and recording the results for posterity. In a move that Dr. Spock would never endorse, they’ve raised their two young children to be accomplices in their work. They take their Santa-fearing daughter, Annie, to every mall they can find so she’ll wail the moment she touches the jolly man’s lap. They enter their son, Buster, in the Little Miss Crimson Clover pageant disguised as a girl. And so on.
As you might imagine, the kids flee the first moment they can. Annie heads to Hollywood and takes up acting; Buster becomes a freelance writer and sometime novelist. But the Fang umbilical cord proves oddly bungee-like, and the offspring soon return for adult-size doses of psychological torment. Wilson writes with the studied quirkiness of George Saunders or filmmaker Wes Anderson, and there’s some genuine warmth beneath all the surface eccentricity. By the end of this fable, the Fang parents emerge as fairy-tale villains for the Venice Biennale set, willing to sacrifice everything for their art. B+