Drowning in a sea of nonfiction, I clung to The Family Fang as I sputtered to the surface for a quick breath before being pulled under again by the book on meditation, the book on simple living, the book about colony collapse in honey bees, the book about the American who became a queen, the book about the founders of the United States, and even the book about the John Brown Bell, which I’ve not yet started reading but which is still weighing me down with a sense of responsibility.
Fiction is such a guilty pleasure for me. There are all of these nonfiction books that I ought to read, that will make me a better, more knowledgeable person and round out my brain in very concrete ways. I start reading them and make an agreement with myself that I will slog through. I will read each page and I will keep these books on my currently-reading list until they are finished, goshdarnit, because that’s what honest and good people do. They don’t stop books before the end. They keep on reading and reading until they get to the notes about the typeset, and then, if they’re really, really good people, they read that, too.
No wonder the two days I spent hanging out with Annie and Buster Fang felt like a stolen pleasure, a respite amid a sea of tumult. Well, that and it was a darned good book.
I think many children suspect their parents of deceits and manipulations similar to those perpetrated by Camille and Caleb Fang. And as a parent, I think that I might be guilty of putting my needs ahead of my children’s like they did. No, I don’t make my kids unwilling participants in ill-conceived performance art pieces, but do sometimes think of us as a team when, in reality, they are following me and forming their preferences because they need my love and comfort and presence. When both the six-year-old and the two-year-old yell for Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me from the back seat of the car, I feel a sense of satisfaction that I’ve influenced their preferences, but I also know that this isn’t something they’ve chosen on their own. This is a preference I’ve fostered by years of listening to and laughing at a radio show with them strapped into their car seats. When my daughter would cry for “Bob Dywan!” (even though she really meant she wanted to listen to Nina Simone), she probably really did like the music, but how much of her liking it was a reflection of her love for me and her dad and the feeling of love and comfort she gets being with us while we’re listening to that music?
I think the Fang parents made the mistake of thinking that they could make their children truly love the things they loved to the point that they would never love anything or choose anything that their parents wouldn’t also love. When their children grew up and pursued their own interests, the Fang parents were left with a choice.
And while I don’t mind so-called “spoilers”—I agree with Annie Fang that a movie or a book, if it’s good enough, can still engage and entertain even if you know the ending already—I know other people would call for retribution if I talked about what the Fang parents actually chose. So I’ll just say one thing more:
This is another book that makes me acutely aware of the constant tick-tick-ticking of the clock on my writing life. Wilson is, as more and more people are these days, younger than me, and yet he’s written this very enjoyable and multifaceted novel. Which I suppose doesn’t have anything to do with me and my writing unless I let it.