'Amuse me,' I said to the pile of books sitting next to me.
Every so often I go to the What's New This Month shelf and pick out a pile of books, sit down and make a start on them all, just to get an idea of which may be for now, which for another day or which maybe perhaps eventually, and sadly some which may be never.
On this particular evening, after a run of serious reading I was in the mood for something funny.
I think we've discussed this before, that what exactly defines 'funny' may be different for all of us, and 'funny' is sadly not always as well-written as we may like either. It has to be harder to pull off than serious.
Well The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson seemed to suggest 'funny' before I'd even opened it, with a cover design that promised amusing, and with its different Picador binding, a shiny, self-bound cover and no dust jacket, semi-hardback but not quite.
And from the minute I met Family Fang I was won over. Parents Caleb and Camille and children Annie ( Child A) and Buster ( Child B). Caleb and Camille are performance artists who specialise in 'creating a situation to elicit extreme emotional responses in others'. A little sort of flash mob of their own and the children are the reluctant props in the act.
The art embraces daily life situations into which the Family Fang insert an element of surprise on the unknowing public, not unlike the TV series You've Been Framed..or does anyone remember Candid Camera... and despite the fact you can't help but know how damaging it all is for these little emotional wrecks, it is very funny indeed.
'Mr and Mrs Fang called it art. Their children called it mischief. "'You make a mess and then you walk away from it," their daughter Annie, told them. "It's a lot more complicated than that, honey," Mrs Fang said as she handed detailed breakdowns of the event to each member of the family....They were driving to Huntsville, two hours away, because they did not want to be recognised...'
I'm not going to pull any of the situations out of the context of the book because that would be to spoil the impact, but I was chuckling away merrily.
The book moves back and forth, between Annie and Buster's adult lives... Annie, in her parents' eyes, having sold her soul to the devil by becoming a film star, the lowest form of performance art, and Buster a reporter of weird and bizarre events... and their highly dysfunctional childhood mostly spent being highly embarrassed about their parents. Most of us parents fulfill that role unintentionally in our childrens' lives whilst Caleb and Camille take it to cringeworthy new levels.
It is a rare girlfriend of Buster's who puts her finger on the emotional baggage that both he and Annie carry
'...it's like your family trained you to react to the world in a way that is so specific to their art that you don't know how to interact with people in the real world. You act like every conversation is just a build-up to something awful....'
When Annie is unwisely talked into appearing topless in one of her films, and Buster, reporting on a rather whacky gang of amateur weapon-makers is shot in the face by a potato ( don't ask) the pair decide to return to the Fang family fold. Caleb and Camille take them out on a performance for old times' sake where it becomes clear the olds seem to be losing their touch, so when their parents suddenly go missing, Annie and Buster are torn between believing they really have gone missing, or is this all part of a grand performance.
At this point I guess Kevin Wilson could have lost a grip on his material but he really does maintain a balance between the humour and the pathos, as both Annie and Buster reflect on their parents, how they feel about them, whether they have ever been loved or not and what the future may hold if Caleb and Camille don't return. And then as they figure out a way to flush their parents out, if that indeed is what they are supposed to do.
I won't of course reveal the slightest hint about the ending, but to say it surprised me completely... as in feather knocked down with, is an understatement. The denouement subverted just about every expectation I had and I salute Kevin Wilson for doing something quite clever there. Because perhaps this was a way of including me, and my reactions as a reader into a piece of performance art a la Family Fang. I was that surprised onlooker, filmed by them so often in the past, registering shock and disbelief on my face as events unfolded.
So if you are on the lookout for something different and quirky, perhaps add The Family Fang to the list, and I had to laugh because for a family called Fang, surely the most obvious Christmas card to send is the one that Camilla and Caleb do... with the whole family posing wearing false fang-like teeth.