Book review: Fun Home

Cover of Fun Home by Alison BechdelWhen I finally arrived home after a tiring trip to California, my wonderful boyfriend greeted me warmly and had a surprise (actually, five): a stack of beautifully wrapped books, one of which was Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. It’s a beautifully told personal history of the author, her father, and the secrets her family unwittingly held in common.

Bechdel’s story unfolds in subtle layers, skipping back and forth through time to get closer to her simultaneously distant and demanding father. He was a high school English teacher and funeral home director in their small Pennsylvania town obsessed with restoring their 19th-century Gothic Revival house to its former glory. “He was an alchemist of appearance, a savant of surface, a Daedalus of decorum.”

His talent for artifice, however, extended more deeply. Shortly after the college-aged Bechdel came out to her parents via US Mail, her mother revealed that her father was gay and had pursued and seduced teenaged boys, including the family babysitter. This revelation was followed only weeks later by news that he had been struck by a semi and killed instantly — and that it might not have been an accident.

Through Proustian recollections, the author explores her childhood, her sexual awakening, profound literary influences on herself and her father, and a family driven apart by individual artistic pursuits: “Our home was like an artists’ colony. . . . in this isolation, our creativity took on an aspect of compulsion.”

Bechdel’s art contains innumerable details that add life and surprise to her story. Her drawing is at once fluid, richly detailed, funny, and haunting. Each panel contains mysteries, revelations, and complicated, often contradictory emotions. She also has a knack for evoking a vivid sense of place and time, the bohemian and the bourgeois, inner life and unexplained behavior. The narrative is strewn with renderings of pages from Camus, Joyce, Kenneth Grahame, Dr. Spock, Randy Shilts, Collette, and more, plus letters, Bechdel’s childhood and adolescent diaries, maps, and photographs.

I’ve long enjoyed Bechdel’s “Dykes to Watch Out For” strip, but her fiercely elegant autobiography is something else altogether. I couldn’t put it down, and I can’t wait to read it again.

No Responses to “Book review: Fun Home”

  1. LLA says:

    Visit LLA

    wow - you did an amazing, eloquent job of describing this book… which is no easy feat, this is a tough one to describe.

    Seriously - hands down the best description of this I’ve seen.

    (and I really enjoyed the book, although it’s been a bit of a while since I read it. Perhaps it needs to go back on my “revisit” list…)

  2. Editrix says:

    Visit Editrix

    Thank you, Ms. LLA!

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