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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Fun Home

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Author: Alison Bechdel
Pages: 232
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Read: May 18, 2013
Source: Friend's library (since mine didn't have it)

Description from Goodreads:
A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books.

This breakout book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, it's a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form.

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescense, the denouement is swift, graphic -- and redemptive.

First Sentence: "Like many fathers, mine could occasionally be prevailed on for a spot of 'airplane.'"

Though this may not have been hugely apparent on my blog, overwhelmed as I am by review copies, I dearly love graphic novels and manga. In an effort to try to fit more of those in, my first selection was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, an autobiography in graphic novel format. Someone on Twitter recommended this to me (Ceilidh of The Book Lantern, perhaps?), and I convinced my friend to ILL it from her library, since my local library charges for those. In Fun Home, Bechdel confronts her sexual journey and her lingering emotions about her father in a lavishly written, darkly humorous comic.

The title Fun Home comes from the fact that her father ran a funeral home, as well as working as a high school teacher. I could not help but be reminded of the show Six Feet Under, which does have some parallels to Bechdel's life experience, certainly in tone and themes, like homosexuality and a truly fucked up family.

Bechdel's identity as a lesbian woman is tied up with her thoughts of her father. She feels that her butch identity developed in contrast to his own sissy-ness; these words are her own and not mine, by the way. Her sexuality and his death will always be linked in her mind too, because of the circumstances of his demise, though the connection seems tenuous at best. This, though, is how the human mind works, implying causality and taking on guilt where none needs to exist, a negative side effect as seeing ourselves as the center of the universe.

Bechdel tells the story of her coming of age in the 1970s with a big emphasis on literary references. She's definitely appealing to a well-read and educated audience. Having not read Proust or Ulysses, there were numerous references I'm sure that I missed out on, and I imagine the constant use of comparison to literary figures would be frustrating for those unfamiliar with the texts mentioned. I really liked this technique, however, the way that Bechdel set herself apart from her own story and analyzed it like fiction. In fact, she even includes snippets from her diary and her father's letters, considering the hidden meaning within them precisely the way she was skeptical of doing with literature in her college English courses.

Bechdel's writing is gorgeous, complex and drenched in meaning. Both the pictures and the words combine to tell the story. Sometimes in graphic novels, the text takes a back seat to the images, but not here. That every word was carefully chosen is obvious. I just loved her writing and had to sit back and chew on some of the sentences, because they were just so beautiful.

Autobiographies and biographies have been one of those forms of writing I've never had much interest in, but Fun Home was fascinating, so I may have been too hasty to dismiss them. My friend who borrowed the book for me said Bechdel also wrote one about her mother, who's a secondary character here, so I'll have to check that out.

Rating: 4/5

Favorite Quote: "Sometimes, when things were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family. Or, at least, the air of authenticity we lent to his exhibit. A sort of still life with children."

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Blogger Unknown said...

OOH. Christina, this one sounds fabulous. I don't read a lot of graphic novels but I may end up giving this one a try. I love the themes you mentioned, and it's awesome that the writing is gorgeous, and it compliments the pictures so well. I think I'm going to add this one to my TBR!

Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

July 11, 2013 at 11:59 AM  
Blogger Heather said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one; I thought you would! I read it in undergrad for a class, and I really enjoyed it, too.

July 11, 2013 at 12:27 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

I've never really been into biographies or autobiographies either, but this sounds interesting. I do like graphic novels so I think that it would be easier to enjoy for me. And gorgeous writing always helps. Great review!

July 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM  

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