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Alison Bechdel – Fun Home

July 11, 2012

70. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (2006)

Length: 234 pages
Genre: Graphic Memoir

Started / Finished: 23 June 2012

Where did it come from? Borrowed from a friend.

Why do I have it? He handed it to me and said “I think you’ll like this,” and he was right about Smile, so.

Sometimes answers from
our parents can only leave
us with more questions.

Summary: Alison Bechdel grew up with a father who was alternatingly distant and angry, an English teacher and director of the local funeral home (or “Fun Home”, as Alison and her siblings called it). Their relationship grew more and more complex until Alison was in college. Shortly after Alison had come out to her parents, she learned that her father was also gay… but before she had more than a brief chance to process that news, he was dead. Whether the accident that killed him had been truly an accident or a suicide, Alison would never know, just one of the many mysteries left by her father for Alison to slowly and painfully unravel here.

Review: The “look at my terrible childhood” flavor of memoir is my least favorite flavor, and is responsible for me thinking I didn’t like memoirs in general until relatively recently. I’ll happily grant Fun Home an exception, however, even though it technically does fall into that category. There are several reasons that it sets itself apart from the rest of its peers, but I think the primary reason is that Bechdel is not using her the trauma of childhood for laughs (although there are some humorous touches throughout) or for dramatic potential (although there’s certainly plenty of that as well). Instead, there’s a very palpable sense that she’s writing this memoir because she’s really trying to figure out her relationship with her father, and what it meant, and that putting her memories down on paper is the best way she can hope to make sense of it all. The narrative flow does jump backwards and forwards through time, repeating some parts of the story from different angles as they come to bear on different topics, giving it a feeling of “thinking out loud,” but even so, it doesn’t come across as feeling scattered or unpolished.

It also helps that her analysis, both of her father and of herself, is extremely penetrating, with enough emotion to make it powerful but enough age and maturity to make it thoughtful. Bechdel’s prose is similarly both elevated and immediate, verbose and vocabulary-ridden, but still clear and forceful. The book is rife with literary allusions and direct textual comparisons, some of which I got, some of which surely went over my head, but which certainly set the intellectual tone of the book. Bechdel’s art is also great, and I really liked the juxtaposition of her own detailed drawings with the drawn reproduction of photographs, printed text, and her own diary entries.

Overall, this was a very thoughtful and penetrating book. I’m sure that there are layers of meaning about homosexuality and the process of coming out that I, as a straight person, didn’t latch on to. But I think there’s also a message that’s applicable to everyone, about the secrets that our parents keep, and about who they really are, and how we, as children of our parents, can manifest those secrets without ever truly understanding them. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended, particularly for people who like memoirs, but maybe even for people that think they don’t.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Ecclectic / Eccentric, Jenny’s Books, The Literary Omnivore, Stella Matutina, Things Mean a Lot, Unputdownables, The Written World, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Like many fathers, mine could occasionally be prevailed on for a spot of “airplane.”

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 7: “Historical restoration wasn’t his job. It was his passion. And I mean passion in every sense of the word. Libidinal. Manic. Martyred.” – sexual instinct or sexual drive.
    .
  • p. 14: “My brothers and I couldn’t compete with the astral lamps and girandoles and hepplewhite suite chairs.” – an ornate bracket for candelabra or the like, sometimes with a reflecting mirror at the back of the shelf.
    .
  • p. 137: “Though it verges on the bathetic, I should point out that no one had kissed me good night in years.” – characterized by insincere pathos; sentimentality; mawkishness.
    .
  • p. 145: “BBy the time he died, I had nearly succeeded in scrubbing those elongated vowels from my own speech. My deracination was kindly abetted by various friends at college.” – to isolate or alienate (a person) from a native or customary culture or environment.

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. July 11, 2012 8:32 am

    I think one thing straight readers may miss is a theme of choosing to pass as straight out of fear or necessity. At one point, Bechdel wonders if she, in her father’s position in time, would have been strong enough to be herself.

    • July 20, 2012 9:40 am

      Omni – That’s true… I think if Bechdel/her father had been shifted in time by even half a generation, it would have been a very different story.

  2. July 11, 2012 9:34 am

    Just finished this book :) It is like a rainbow of emotions that Alison feels for her dad and for her own sexuality, but at times I wished she would learn to let go and forgive. She has held on to bitterness for a very long time, and it hasn’t done her good.
    All the same, I loved it, particularly the literary references and comparisons to other disturbed writers

    Do visit my book blog! and if you like it, please do follow!

    • July 20, 2012 9:41 am

      Amritorupa – That’s interesting; I didn’t really read a whole lot of bitterness from this. Or at least, what there was, she was in the process of working through, and this book felt like part of the forgiveness process.

  3. July 11, 2012 10:06 am

    I really enjoyed this one and plan to read her newest, Are You My Mother?, sometime soon.

    • July 20, 2012 9:42 am

      Gavin – The friend who loaned me this also has Are You My Mother?, although he’s said he’s having a harder time with it. I hope you enjoy it, though… I’ll be interested to see your thoughts!

  4. July 11, 2012 3:37 pm

    Ooh, I’m adding that to my wish list! I love memoirs and find graphic memoirs to be a treat!

  5. July 21, 2012 12:09 pm

    Your comment about the “look at my terrible childhood” memoir made me think of this Pearls Before Swine comic strip: http://www.gocomics.com/pearlsbeforeswine/2012/05/17 :)

    This sounds pretty good. I’ll have to add it to my TBR.

  6. April 9, 2014 1:53 am

    Just finished this book, and was blown away by the sheer magic Alison Bechdel has woven into her words and the strength and detail of her graphics that add layers to this very human story. I have reviewed it on my blog at http://bookloversmelbourne.blogspot.com.au/2014/04/book-review-fun-home-by-alison-bechdel.html

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