Saturday, February 2, 2019

#6 [2019/CBR11] "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel

I'd heard of Alison Bechdel from the Bechdel test, but I wasn't at all familiar with her or her work. I picked up Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2006) because it was on my 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40 List. I think I've only read one other graphic novel (maybe), but I appreciate being forced out of my comfort zone every now and then. Although it hasn't changed my preference for traditional writing and the pictures in my head, Fun Home was worth reading.

Fun Home is a memoir of Bechdel's childhood and coming of age in comic form. It focuses primarily on her relationship with her father, which is complicated. It sounds like her father was bi-polar, sometimes abusive, and secretly slept with men--or boys-not-quite-men. Her father took over the family funeral home business and taught high school English to supplement the family income. Bechdel's mother was worldly and educated but came back to live in her husband's small hometown to teach and raise a family.

It seems that a lot of Bechdel's childhood relationship with her father involved disinterest and occasional rage. He was obsessed with restoring their old mansion, creating the perfect home and garden. As she grew up, Bechdel and her father connected over literature. In her book, Bechdel intertwines her relationship with her father with famous literature, including Proust, James Joyce, and the story of Daedalus and Icarus.

When Bechdel is in college, she discovers that she's a lesbian. Right after announcing this to her parents, she finds out that her father is gay. (It is unclear how to define his sexuality exactly when he probably could not define it himself). Soon after, her mother announces she wants a divorce, and not much time later, her father is killed by a truck. Bechdel suspects suicide, but she can never know for sure.

That's an awful lot to deal with at a young age, and Bechdel does a good job discussing the complexities of her relationship with her father and how she feels about it. It never is as easy as black and white. She loved him and he had a profound influence on her. She suspects the denial and self-hatred he must have been living with, but she cannot ignore the negative influences he had on her, her family, or others around him. The illustrations were very well done and added meaning and comprehension to her story. I'm very impressed by her creativity and her work.

However, as good as this was, and as much as I like to force myself out of my comfort zone, I still yearn for the detailed explanations of a traditional memoir. And even though I was impressed by Bechdel's ability to intertwine her relationship with her father and with literature in a visual way, I didn't find it particularly captivating. I'm sure it didn't help that I either hadn't read or was not interested in the literature she highlights in her graphic novel. So, I'm glad I read it, and I appreciate why it achieved so many accolades, it just didn't hit me as hard as some other memoirs I've read.

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