Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Here is another venture into the graphic novel for me, or as the case, the graphic memoir. Alison Bechdel writer and illustrator of the classic comic Dykes to Watch Out For writes about her life and her relationship with her father in Fun Home (2006). Bechdel’s father was a high school English teacher, a director of a family funeral home (the “fun home” of the title), and an obsessive house restorer in a remote town in Central Pennsylvania. When Alison goes away to college and realizes she is lesbian. She comes out to our parents, only to learn that her father has been having homosexual affairs for years, and often with young men who worked as their babysitter. Short afterwards her father dies in an accident that Bechdel believes may be suicide.

Fun Home is both touching and funny as Bechdel explores her father’s secrets and the way in which they were similar despite being polar opposite. This work is steeped in literary illusions. In lesser hands that would be rather pretentious, but here it works. Fiction is a way Alison and her father communicate both in life and spiritually. Much of her father’s life is a fiction and in many ways that fiction holds deeper truths than reality. Also many of the works cited so perfectly parallel events in Alison’s life that it’s eerie.

The book is framed by the myth of Icarus, with Bechdel contending that it was her father rather than herself that fell from the sky. Her childhood in a Gothic home with the family business in the funeral home reminded her of Charles Adaams’ comics. Her mother is an amateur actress who Bechdel compares with an idealist from a Henry James novel. Her father is more of a Gatsby-esque figure, deliberately since he was obsessed with Fitzgerald. Their town of Beech Creek resembles the illustrations from The Wind in the Willows. Her mother’s performance in The Importance of Being Ernest takes place at the same time that her father has to go to trial for cavorting with minors (paralleling Oscar Wilde’s own trial for homosexuality). Reading Ulysses for a college seminar course turns out to occur as Alison is on her voyage of discovery in literature and her sexuality.

I could go on listing all the literary parallels that weave themselves through this rich narrative and strongly illustrated book, but instead I’ll finish by saying that this is just a really good read and worth reading and reflecting upon.

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