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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
(original 2006; edition 2007)
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Alison Bechdel grew up with a father who was alternatingly distant and angry, an English teacher and director of the local funeral home (or "Fun Home", as Alison and her siblings called it). Their relationship grew more and more complex until Alison was in college. Shortly after Alison had come out to her parents, she learned that her father was also gay... but before she had more than a brief chance to process that news, he was dead. Whether the accident that killed him had been truly an accident or a suicide, Alison would never know, just one of the many mysteries left by her father for Alison to slowly and painfully unravel here.
The "look at my terrible childhood" flavor of memoir is my least favorite flavor, and is responsible for me thinking I didn't like memoirs in general until relatively recently. I'll happily grant
an exception, however, even though it technically does fall into that category. There are several reasons that it sets itself apart from the rest of its peers, but I think the primary reason is that Bechdel is not using her the trauma of childhood for laughs (although there are some humorous touches throughout) or for dramatic potential (although there's certainly plenty of that as well). Instead, there's a very palpable sense that she's writing this memoir because she's really trying to figure out her relationship with her father, and what it meant, and that putting her memories down on paper is the best way she can hope to make sense of it all. The narrative flow does jump backwards and forwards through time, repeating some parts of the story from different angles as they come to bear on different topics, giving it a feeling of "thinking out loud," but even so, it doesn't come across as feeling scattered or unpolished.
It also helps that her analysis, both of her father and of herself, is extremely penetrating, with enough emotion to make it powerful but enough age and maturity to make it thoughtful. Bechdel's prose is similarly both elevated and immediate, verbose and vocabulary-ridden, but still clear and forceful. The book is rife with literary allusions and direct textual comparisons, some of which I got, some of which surely went over my head, but which certainly set the intellectual tone of the book. Bechdel's art is also great, and I really liked the juxtaposition of her own detailed drawings with the drawn reproduction of photographs, printed text, and her own diary entries.
Overall, this was a very thoughtful and penetrating book. I'm sure that there are layers of meaning about homosexuality and the process of coming out that I, as a straight person, didn't latch on to. But I think there's also a message that's applicable to everyone, about the secrets that our parents keep, and about who they really are, and how we, as children of our parents, can manifest those secrets without ever truly understanding them. 4 out of 5 stars.
Definitely recommended, particularly for people who like memoirs, but maybe even for people that think they don't.
| Jul 8, 2012 |
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Interesting biography and autobiography by Alison Bechdel. She looks back at her father's life and her own youth and how some of the secrets and lies complicated their relationship and how it complicated her life. It's interesting and occasionally I found myself heartbroken for her. and what happened to her mentally during her youth.
Well worth reading.
| Nov 27, 2013 |
I first heard of Alison Bechdel through fandom and the Bechdel test. This is a simple way of evaluating the gender bias of a film:
1. It has to have at least two women in it,
2. who talk to each other,
3. about something besides a man.
Because it's simple, it's not always true. (Do Natasha Romanov, Pepper Potts and Maria Hill talk to each other in Avengers? No. Are they all female characters worth watching and identifying with? Yes.) But quite often, it is. (Sorry, Supernatural, but really.
I actually came round to reading anything of Alison Bechdel's -- beyond that simple
that gave us those rules -- through my comics and graphic novels course. I was only very vaguely aware that Alison Bechdel identifies as a lesbian, and not at all aware of her family story. Fun Home is essentially a memoir in comic form, though.
I enjoyed the literary allusions quite a lot, and I liked the art style as well. It's not immensely ornate or anything like that, but it has feeling and personality. To say it has warmth is a bit of a stretch when you're talking something that deals with such heavy topics and which has such an emotionally distant family at its heart, but you can feel for the characters. Fun Home feels like it was a catharsis for Bechdel, putting into words and images things she'd always felt and not voiced, making parallels that were helpful for her, figuring out links -- even engaging in a bit of wishful thinking.
It's interesting how, in my experience of reading this book, there were three levels of acceptance of gay people: not at all (Bruce Bechdel), as part of the women's movement (Alison Bechdel) and as part of life (me). It opens a little window on what might have been my life. Not everything that Bruce Bechdel did could be excused, and I don't want to assume too much about Alison Bechdel's feelings, but I do feel lucky not to be trapped like Bruce and even Alison.
My coming out experiences with my parents...
ME: Mum, I'm bisexual and I'm dating Lisa.
MUM: Don't cut your hair! You know sexuality is a continuum, right? I don't want you to label yourself just because of something you're feeling right now.
[Some years later]
ME: Dad, if you haven't noticed that me and Lisa are dating, you're possibly a bit stupid.
DAD: I didn't.
ME: Oh. Well, we are.
I do still needle my mum about the stereotyping behind "don't cut your hair" (it was my pride and joy at the time, waist length and thick and a little bit curly -- and I've since cut my hair pretty short, and she likes it), but... thank goodness for my family and the fact that there was no one walking in front of a bread truck.
| Nov 14, 2013 |
is Allison Bechdel's graphic memoir of the tense relationship she had with her father growing up as well as partially a story about her process of coming out as a lesbian.
I had heard good things about
in the past and had it on the back burner as something I wanted to read for several years. Taking a course now on graphic novels with
on the syllabus forced me to bring it to forefront, and I'm glad I got to it sooner rather than later. Bechdel's honesty, as well as self-doubt as she asks questions that she does not have the answers to (such as the mysterious circumstances surrounding her father's death), creates a compelling read that I didn't want to put down. She explores many aspects of her dysfunctional family, using mythology, literature, and her own childhood OCD as well as her later coming-out process as ways to explain her relationship with her parents, particularly her father. The illustrations are pitch-perfect and complement the text and story nicely.
It's taken me some time to get down to reviewing this book as I felt I didn't have the proper words to do so. I still feel that is true. This was a fabulous read and one I very much recommend for fans of memoirs, graphic novels, or interesting psychological reads. However, I feel like any review of do of the book will not do it justice. The best I can say is to go out and read it yourself - you will not be disappointed!
| Oct 20, 2013 |
A memoir in graphic novel format about Alison Bechdel's experiences growing up with her father: a difficult, damaged man who harbored secrets about his conflicted sexuality, and who jumped in front of a truck at the age of forty-four. I found it tremendously intimate and thoughtful and affecting, and by the end, I was honestly rather choked up. The graphic novel form works remarkably well, too, with Bechdel's childhood diary entries and snippets of her father's letters integrated smoothly with the simple, well-drawn black-and-white illustrations. And for a memoir told in such a visually oriented style, it's also a remarkably literate one, as Bechdel attempts to connect with and understand her English teacher father through the reading they shared. Definitely recommended.
| Oct 7, 2013 |
The 7 chapters in this graphic memoir feel less like she's telling you a story from beginning to end... and more like she's telling you the same story 7 times. But each time, she reveals a little bit more, either contextual, historical, or personal analysis. It's more of a graphic-personal-essay than a graphic-memoir, in that she is trying to work something out, trying to make some meaning out of her past by looking at it from several different angles. The point is not to tell a good story, the point is to wring some ounce of meaning out of it, and if she didn't do it so well, I would fault her for this. But she does it well, and it suits her OCD personality to hash and re-hash things, to build some kind of sense and meaning (even numbers except for multiples of 13!) out of what is seemingly meaningless.
One way she does this is to cast her family in the roles of literary characters, writers, and actors. Through the course of this book she draws parallels between herself/her family and the following: F Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, Ulysses/The Odyssey, Icarus/Daedelus, Richard Nixon, The Adams Family, Jimmy Stewart & Family in It's A Wonderful Life, Camus, Catcher in the Rye, Colette, Proust, Robert Redford, some Henry James novel etc. etc. By the end you feel like she's probably way too smart for her own good. All this analogizing her life
be good for her, this obsessive analysis borders on neurosis, and she knows it too: one of her many theories is that it is easier to live through fiction, or to access life through illusion/allusion than directly.
Anyway, the weaving of these threads together is done with such skill that it makes for a good read. And perhaps she did come away with it, after all of that, with some kind of insight. It definitely feels like insight by the end, but I'm not sure if it is, or if all it boils down to is just her trying to convince herself of what she wants to believe.
I was struck by the fact that I didn't like the father at all. And I felt like there weren't that many characters to really cling to in this book, except for the father and the narrator. But other than the father, the other characters fall back into bit parts, almost invisibly. And I wasn't sure if I was supposed to feel sympathy for the father, which is what seemed to be happening towards the end. I felt sympathy maybe for his situation, but I really didn't like him as a person (well, that sounds kinda weird... how about "as a person as portrayed in this book").
One last note: I wasn't really impressed by the art when I began, but it grew on me (mainly because of the story). She's definitely a much better thinker/writer than an artist. And the way she weaves the words with the pictures works really well sometimes without seeming too clever or innovative (which usually gets on my nerves).
| Sep 11, 2013 |
I don't know what I expected when I read this, but this was far more moving than I expected. It's the story of a woman who slowly realizes her father is gay after she realizes she herself is gay. This is no feathery account of self-realization, either. There are concrete ramifications: her father was from a small town in a time when homosexuality just wasn't talked about, let alone understood. As a result he passes on his self-loathing to his children. Bechdel leaps a little in the end regarding her father's death and her beliefs about it, but that is forgivable. It's possible that she's right.
| Aug 22, 2013 |
Link to review:
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Alison has had an odd relationship with her father. Not only did he work in a morgue, but he was hiding a major secret. Once she comes out of the closet and is in college, she realizes that her father was gay. This was not the only secret left for Alison to solve.
This book would be hard to read aloud given its layout. This would be one that I would point out on the bookshelf, but I would not want to expose the entire class to the content. (There is at least one sex scene.) If I were to have the class read from it, there would be specific sections and I would be sure to announce on Open House that I am available if parents would like to discuss the content of any of the books.
I thought this was an easy read and a good book. I am very naïve about what goes on in the lesbian world and I thought this was a very interesting book. After talking with a professor (who is lesbian) I realized that this was a common “finding self” track for lesbians (figuring out they were lesbians—not their fathers being gay).
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What I Want To Add:
I read this book for a college class about human sexuality in America. We had a guest professor come in and lead the class discussion on this book. It was interesting to hear this book about a lesbian’s life from a lesbian. Being a straight female, I was really unsure as to what to expect or if the author’s experiences were common, etc. I loved listening about everyone’s different takes on the book itself.
I didn’t have any major issues with this book. I would read it again if I even had the opportunity to do so. I would recommend this book for anyone in middle school or older. From what I remember there might be some adult language, and I know for sure that there was some nudity – but none of that was the main focus. This book might help some of those who are going through similar experiences (even if those people are straight or gay).
My rating: 4/5 stars
Have questions, requests, etc.? Then feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com
| Aug 6, 2013 |
How surprised I was when, after I ordered this book , picked it up, opened the cover...to a graphic novel. And listed as fiction. a new adventure for me!
The author, Allison Bechdel, explores her father's actions and motives, coming to terms with his repressed homosexuality, his violent rages, his maniacal dedication to restoring and curating the family home. Bechdel's father comes across as mysterious, meticulous and alien.
In searching for her father's true self, which she has missed throughout her life, she uses themes of literature as references. The story of Daedalus and Icarus defined her dad, who attempted a self transformation paralleled by Jay Gatz from the Great Gatsby. I reread the book, and enjoyed it at a different level the second time around. A fan of graphic novels? You will need only one reading to love this book and this author. I highly recommend this book to those who love graphic novels, and to those wondering what they are. Alison Bechdel and her books are an excellent place to start.
| Jul 25, 2013 |
Though this may not have been hugely apparent on my blog, overwhelmed as I am by review copies, I dearly love graphic novels and manga. In an effort to try to fit more of those in, my first selection was Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, an autobiography in graphic novel format. Someone on Twitter recommended this to me (Ceilidh of The Book Lantern, perhaps?), and I convinced my friend to ILL it from her library, since my local library charges for those. In Fun Home, Bechdel confronts her sexual journey and her lingering emotions about her father in a lavishly written, darkly humorous comic.
The title Fun Home comes from the fact that her father ran a funeral home, as well as working as a high school teacher. I could not help but be reminded of the show Six Feet Under, which does have some parallels to Bechdel's life experience, certainly in tone and themes, like homosexuality and a truly fucked up family.
Bechdel's identity as a lesbian woman is tied up with her thoughts of her father. She feels that her butch identity developed in contrast to his own sissy-ness; these words are her own and not mine, by the way. Her sexuality and his death will always be linked in her mind too, because of the circumstances of his demise, though the connection seems tenuous at best. This, though, is how the human mind works, implying causality and taking on guilt where none needs to exist, a negative side effect as seeing ourselves as the center of the universe.
Bechdel tells the story of her coming of age in the 1970s with a big emphasis on literary references. She's definitely appealing to a well-read and educated audience. Having not read Proust or Ulysses, there were numerous references I'm sure that I missed out on, and I imagine the constant use of comparison to literary figures would be frustrating for those unfamiliar with the texts mentioned. I really liked this technique, however, the way that Bechdel set herself apart from her own story and analyzed it like fiction. In fact, she even includes snippets from her diary and her father's letters, considering the hidden meaning within them precisely the way she was skeptical of doing with literature in her college English courses.
Bechdel's writing is gorgeous, complex and drenched in meaning. Both the pictures and the words combine to tell the story. Sometimes in graphic novels, the text takes a back seat to the images, but not here. That every word was carefully chosen is obvious. I just loved her writing and had to sit back and chew on some of the sentences, because they were just so beautiful.
Autobiographies and biographies have been one of those forms of writing I've never had much interest in, but Fun Home was fascinating, so I may have been too hasty to dismiss them. My friend who borrowed the book for me said Bechdel also wrote one about her mother, who's a secondary character here, so I'll have to check that out.
| Jul 11, 2013 |
Overwritten. Came out of this reading completely alienated by this woman's success. Is this really what people find good these days? She seems untalented at both visual art and writing and overcompensates by beating the same tried drum endlessly. I guess it is currently fashionable, but I'm not eager to play along.
| Jul 8, 2013 |
This memoir in graphic novel form is an exploration of the author's relationship with her father and of his (probable) suicide. It's just an incredibly well-written description of a family. Really good.
| Jul 2, 2013 |
This is a book about sexuality. The dynamic - of homosexual and lesbian father/daughter, dressed in repression and housed in a literally funereal setting - is entirely original and intriguing. The drawing (particularly the edits and zooms) works very well with the subject matter. The work, however, is tinged with a self-absorption that detracts from any more universal message.
| May 24, 2013 |
Fascinating tale of cartoonist Bechdel's childhood in dysfunctional family who owned a funeral home in a small town. The author ties her own self discovery and coming out as a lesbian to the revelation that her father was a closeted homosexual whose death may have been suicide.
| May 19, 2013 |
Excellent, moving autobiography. Who knew a graphic novel could be so profound?
| May 11, 2013 |
If I hadn't previously read Are You My Mother, I would have rated this first novel a 5 - but it didn't have the complexity of her first - her ability to weave multiple strands of thought and perspective and psychological insight into a single frame. Nevertheless, I loved it, and admire her ability to transform such a difficult, confusing childhood into art.
| May 3, 2013 |
I can’t say enough good things about this unique book. It’s an honest, subtle, profound exploration into Bechdel’s family dynamics, and it’s worth reading more than once.
| Apr 25, 2013 |
I can’t say enough good things about this unique book. It’s an honest, subtle, profound exploration into Bechdel’s family dynamics, and it’s worth reading more than once.
| Apr 24, 2013 |
Is there anyone you know who doesn't have a lot of respect for 'comic books' and their creators? Hand them a copy of "Fun Home", and when they're finished, defy them to tell you that Alison Bechdel's story could have been rendered in any format that would possibly be more sublime than that of her graphic novel.
In fact, I'm tempted to defy anyone to give this graphic novel less than 5 stars. Go on, I dare you. Jaw-dropping illustrations that readily evoke emotion and thoughtful consideration, an arc of literary symmetry that shimmers through the family's biography, and a subject matter that would send lesser humans to a darkened corner to rock themselves and suck their thumbs. Told and drawn with humor, love, rage and dignity. Amazing.
The staggering talent of the author - in both word and illustration - is more than up to the task of telling her family's heartbreaking story. I think perhaps the word "poignant" was created for the sole purpose of describing this book. Did "poignant" exist before "Fun Home"? I'm not sure.
Definitely not a book for youngsters or the easily offended - but if you've read even the simplest of summaries regarding the book, you already knew that. Read it if you can.
| Apr 17, 2013 |
this graphic novel is very literary and explores family dysfunction with tremendous insight and sensitivity. highlt recommended
| Apr 7, 2013 |
A book I had wanted to read since long - since the premise of a girl's story of growing up in a funeral home was very rare. I have been aware of Alison Bechdel's comic strip 'Dykes to Watch Out For' and suspected (well, it was obvious) that she was a lesbian.
Book is a brutally honest of her growing up, her relationship with her father and her own subsequent sexual awakening. Her story is also woven with a memoir in books (and authors) - Fitzgerald's books, James Joyce (Ulysses), Marcel Proust, Oscar Wilde (of course, he needed to figure in the book) and several more books about homosexuality (ranging from Collette and Kate Millet.)
There is nothing uncomfortable about a book that tells a seemingly uncomfortable story, it is narrated without a shred of self-pity but yet sounds poignant to me. A profound work in graphics. My favorite sequence was her brave but brief confrontation with her father in the car, the only time they discuss it.
Alison's search for her father's story alongside her own growth, makes the book truly a 'tragicomic'.
| Apr 6, 2013 |
The story followed an expected path from the first reveal, but the final reveal was unexpected and more satisfying than is usual for this kind of autobiography.
| Apr 5, 2013 |
Smart, tragic, and entertaining as all get out =) Bechdel writes with an honesty that few have the courage to approach. It was a pleasure to "view" this autobiography about growing up in a funeral home and understanding ones parents.
| Apr 5, 2013 |
graphic novel of lesbian's coming of age in dysfunctional household, father is closeted; family lives in funeral home; mother retreats from family's issues
| Apr 5, 2013 |
Graphic (in both senses) memoir from the erudite creator of Dykes To Watch Out For. Bechdel tells the story of her childhood by talking about her dad, a closeted gay man who died under odd circumstances when she was just 19. Her love for him shines through the pain he caused, and informs this gentle-seeming book with white hot emotion that is always just out of reach. It's an amazing book but not an easy one.
| Apr 5, 2013 |
I loved it. Poignant and brilliant and hilarious. And there was a picture of a card catalog in it which made me really happy. I miss those.
| Apr 3, 2013 |
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