Tuesday, July 11, 2017
Book Review: "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel's father Bruce was an enigma to her while she was growing upan English teacher and director of the family-owned funeral home (aka the "Fun Home") who had an exacting eye for fashion, decor, and gardening. He wasn't a bad father, but he always seemed to keep her and her brothers at arm's length, not to mention her mother.
While Alison remembered some special, tender times, she remembered more moments of being forced to wear an outfit she didn't want, scolded into meeting his tough cleaning standards, and feeling bewildered at his obsession with making sure all of the flowers around their house always looked perfect.
When Alison was in college, she came out to her parents as a lesbian. Shortly thereafter, she found out that her father was gay. While perhaps not entirely surprising if she added up all of the signs and clues she might have noted subconsciously, the discovery still throws her for a loop. And while they had one half-conversation about this, a few weeks after his revelation, her father died, leaving a legacy of mystery and confusion in his wake.
"Perhaps my eagerness to claim him as 'gay' in the way I am 'gay,' as opposed to bisexual or some other category, is just a way of keeping him to myselfa sort of inverted oedipal complex."
Fun Home is both a daughter's efforts to make sense of her father's life and death as it is an account of growing up uncomfortable in your own skin, of knowing you are different but being afraid of acknowledging it for fear everything might change, even though it should. It's a story of coming to terms with who you are, while remembering a man who really never had that luxury.
I'm really late to the party in reading this, and while I've heard some of the music from the musical version of Fun Home, I never saw the show either. I've never read a graphic novel/memoir before (although I read lots of Archie, Betty, and Veronica comics growing up, and was addicted to the Silver Surfer), and this was both a refreshing and challenging format for me.
This book practically pulsates with emotion, anger, and confusion, as well as the uncertainty that comes with self-discovery. When it dealt with Alison's own life or her father's struggles to find himself, the book is strongest, but it spends a lot of time holding up their story against a backdrop of classic literature (which her father so loved), and after a while I didn't enjoy those portions as much. However, as someone who wishes his father was still alive so we could have conversations about life there never seemed to be time for then, I found Fun Home beautifully moving.
If you mostly read books via Kindle or another e-reader, do yourself a favor and borrow or buy the printed version of this one. I was so glad I made the investment to enjoy the power of how Bechdel's illustrations told as much of the story as her words. While this wasn't perhaps as good as I had expected it to be, it still is powerful, and I'll remember it for some time to come.