Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

fun homeFun Home won awards and got more attention than Bechdel’s later Are You My Mother?, which I loved, so this was an obvious choice and yes, I will add my praise to the chorus.

This is a memoir centering around Bechdel’s father Bruce, her own discovery that she is a lesbian and her coming out to her parents, which is immediately followed by the discovery that her father is gay, too, shortly before he kills himself just weeks later. (The evidence is inconclusive, but she makes a good argument for her conviction, that it was suicide.) The title is a reference to the family business, which is a small-town funeral home that they call ‘Fun Home.’ That’s a lot, right? It is also a memoir in graphic form, and I am crazy about Bechdel’s technique, which combines dialog (speech boxes for the characters in her panels) with a voiceover-style narrative in different boxes that sort of caption those same panels. It’s astonishing how much can be communicated in pictorial form.

Despite the often heavy subject matter, Bechdel is often laugh-out-loud funny, while also taking her material seriously. She beautifully evokes the absurdity of many different elements of her story. Bruce is a passionate restorer of historic homes, down to all the details, the bizarrely frothy, lacy, heavy decor. This is both hilarious and pathological. He “treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture.” Bechdel and her father are most intimate when they share books and reading (note that this is an intimacy with decided remove). Bruce works as an English teacher as well as a funeral director; and two thematic elements of the book are death and books. Bechdel is best able to understand and characterize her parents when viewing them through the lens of literature: her father as Icarus, then Daedalus, then a character from Fitzgerald; her mother one from Henry James. “I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms.” On the other end of the cultural spectrum, as a child Bechdel confused her family with the Addams family.

The reader has a different experience of the story than she does, because we find out earlier than she does the big reveal – that her father has had relationships with men and boys. But she still has us share in mixed feelings of relief, shock, perplexity.

The story is weird, fascinating, and moving; Bechdel has a gimlet eye for the psychological struggle in each chapter of it; the structure of this book – the disordered chronology and release of facts – is a smart puzzle. But the art is what completes the perfection: I’m still reeling from, and trying to comprehend, how precisely she uses visual images (with those careful text additions) to communicate. I can’t adequately articulate it, but this is a special, a uniquely wonderful way to tell a uniquely interesting story. One to study.


Rating: 9 books, of course.

2 Responses

  1. […] hugest fan of graphic novels/graphic works in the world, although I have dearly loved some (Alison Bechdel, the Maus series). But I’m not precisely a connoisseur. And this one claims to be more […]

  2. […] Fun Home, Alison Bechdel – nonfiction […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: