Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Genre/Pages: Graphic Novel Memoir/232
Publication: Houghton Mifflin Company; 2006
Rating: 3.5 BOOKMARKS
A memoir different in style and story than any I’ve read before, Fun Home tells of the Bechdel family as seen from daughter Alison’s perspective.
With a vocabulary that would rival Roget’s and cartooning skills that capture every nuance of emotion, Alison Bechdel is a gifted storyteller and artist. Her family appears to be one you would see on the cover of an innocuous sales circular or catalog hawking twinsets and sports jackets. But scratch the surface of the veneer and you’ll find a father struggling (unsuccessfully) to repress his true sexual identity, a daughter confused by her own burgeoning sexuality, and a mother trying to keep it all together. Appearance versus reality is the underlying theme of this memoir, and it manifests itself on almost every page.
Bruce Bechdel, patriarch, taught English Literature to supplement his salary as a funeral director of a small Pennsylvania town. By night (and on weekends) he was a historical restorationist who spent eighteen years bringing their Gothic Revival home back to its former glory, both inside and out. Alison describes him as, “…an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of decor…”
But when Alison was in college, her father dies after being hit by a truck. It appears to be an accident, but Alison wonders if the reality is something darker: suicide. The book examines various events of her child- and adulthood, where her father’s sexuality and choices are brought into question.
Alison attempts to define their relationship, find their commonalities, and come to terms with his death. It can be a difficult or painful thing for adult children to reconcile their parents with the people they really are. Recognizing flaws and faults can shatter illusions, and the reality may not always be as pretty as the image that the parents projected or that children saw and carried into adulthood.
For my first foray into the graphic novel, I’d say that this was a very good pick. Initially, I struggled with the flow of the layout–I was never a big comic book reader as a kid–but once I adjusted, it was fine. I would have liked to see more of the dynamic between Alison and her brothers and how her mother coped after her husband’s death. Was she finally freed of the shackles of a stressful and painful marriage or was her husband now elevated to sainthood by his untimely and violent death?
Fun Home is dark, raw, and quirky and stays with the reader long after the last page is finished.