Monday, April 16, 2018

Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Format: Paperback, 232 pages
Pub. Date: June 5th 2007
Source: Half Price Books

Book Description:

In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.



I didn't know anything about Fun Home when I saw it on Broadway in Chicago. My sister is a season pass holder to the theatre, and so we went. I was told, "I don't know, it's a musical about lesbians or something". Seeing as I'm LGBT, that was enough. I didn't expect to fall in love with the musical and the story, but I did. I was eager to get my hands on Bechdel's book to get a deeper experience out of it. I wasn't disappointed.

I wasn't expecting this book to be so smartly written. I know that sounds insulting, and I definitely don't mean it to be. I know Alison Bechdel is smart (understatement of the year, since I'm pretty sure she's a MacArthur grant recipient). But wrongly, I assumed that because it was a graphic novel, it wouldn't contain much.

I was wrong, and I stand corrected.

The amount of literary comparison and quotation and references in this book are insanely plentiful. Not to mention well done. As an English grad, it warms the cockles of my cold, cynical heart. I too speak of my life, and the people in it, in terms of literature. I related strongly. Sometimes I even, admittedly, had to go back and read again to make sure I understood the bookishness fully. It's not a fast read, despite the illustrations.

I also related strongly with the idea of loving one's father, but also hating them. It is confusing to people who don't understand. My father could be warm and charming in a room full of people. But home with us, he was cold, and he was cruel. I lived my life in a state of confusion, because which of these people was my father? I have people who don't believe he was abusive, because he was so fun. I have people who know how abusive he was at home, who have gotten angry at me for staying in contact with him. It is a very weird mix of feelings to even explain to myself, let alone to other people. Alison Bechdel, while having drastically different circumstances, managed to convey this perfectly. Far better than I could ever say. Alison, I feel your heart saying hi.

And then, there's the artwork. It's very odd to see such an emotionally driven biography in this medium, but it's super effective. At first I was disappointed that these illustrations aren't in color. But in a panel, she explains why she doesn't use color anymore.... And I unfortunately relate to that too. It no longer disappointed me. The art style is well done, familiar but with detail. I appreciated the many references to Sunbeam Bread throughout the course of the book.

I also liked that the book wasn't just somber all the way through. There are moments of humor. There are moments that as a young LGBT woman that made me smile, or upset me, or just hit home. Like when I first realized what it was like to be different. Like life, this book is filled with ups and downs and complications and emotions. It can be rough in spots, but it's worth it.

I'd absolutely recommend this to anyone who enjoys the musical Fun Home, who grew up queer, or who likes gritty, realistic autobiographies. It's so well done, both in text and in illustration. It will remain on my sexuality shelf for the foreseeable future.


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