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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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O hype da crítica é 100% justificado.
| Aug 26, 2015 |
An incredibly written memoir in graphic novel format.
| Aug 21, 2015 |
Probably one of the best graphic memoirs out there. The illustrations and text work together to create powerful storytelling.
Bechdel centers her story around her relationship with her difficult father, whom she loved despite his rages and eccentricities. Growing up with him as a father led to an unconventional childhood: first, in the family funeral home, where seeing dead bodies and playing with coffins with just another day. Then, in a rehabbed manor house thatt her father meticulously restores, not with his family's comfort in mind, but with aesthetically pleasing (and often impractical) furniture. Father and daughter clash: He, an impeccable dresser wants his daughter in fashionable clothes; She, more happy in boots and mismatched tops and bottoms. She comes to understand her in a different light as an adult, when it's revealed that he's been having affairs with teenage boys, and suddenly, his eccentricities start to finally have an explanation.
This shocking revelation, which Bechdel comes to know after her own coming-out in college, comes on the heels of family upheaval, culminating in her father's death by bread truck. This leads to a question that haunts Bechdel throughout her life: was his death an accident or suicide? It's interesting that Bechdel insists it was suicide, yet her artwork suggests otherwise. She's a fan of psychology and its theories on the subconscious -- I wonder if she's aware that her frequent drawings of the moment of her dad's death don't promote any indication of suicide? (They show him crossing the road, deep in thought, his vision blocked by the yard-work debris he is holding, corroborating the truck driver's claim that he crossed the road, was startled by something like perhaps a snake, and jumped backwards into the path of the truck.) So there's an interesting contrast between what Bechdel says and what she draws. All people who recall memories are unreliable narrators in a way; what we remember is so often tied up in emotions, and this is especially true for Bechdel. Perhaps she wants to believe he committed suicide as a way to reconcile why her father stayed in his small country town all his life, married a woman, and had children despite being in personality what Bechdel describes as an "aristocrat." Being gay herself, she may be perhaps projecting her own thoughts and feelings into what her father felt and thought as he lived a double life. Here, Bechdel does well to invoke references to Proust, with that author's metaphor of the two paths, and Joyce's "Ulysses," especially that delightful line about one character thinking about what the other character is thinking what they're thinking.
Reliable or not as a narrator, Bechdel brings a raw openness to her story that is compelling.
| Aug 12, 2015 |
Reread this about halfway through "Are You My Mother?" I just couldn't stand reading all the references to this book without having it fresh in my head. It's a perfect book and I hope she writes more, but I really miss Dykes To Watch Out For. (Yes, I get to say that. I bought *new* copies of every DTWOF book.)
| Aug 8, 2015 |
Fun home is an autobiographical comic about the author's relationship with her father. They ways they were close and the ways they were distant. They way they orbited each other and complemented each other and contrasted each other and pushed each other away. It's deeply introspective and thoughtful and the art is lovely.
| Jul 4, 2015 |
Bechdel’s coming of age memoir is profound, touching, intellectual, and most importantly, honest. Her own journey is one of discovering she is a lesbian, finding out what that means, and coming out to her family while she’s in college. Her father’s is one of running a funeral home, teaching high school English, having a love for interior decorating and literature, and leading a double life that sometimes involves teenage boys. When he commits suicide at age 44, when Bechdel was 20, it’s hard for her to process, and re-connecting to him through memories (which sometimes need to be reinterpreted) is what the book is all about.
Bechdel ability to be true to her sexuality is set side by side with his inability to do so, and yet, the story is not a simplistic tale of ‘look how far we’ve come’ by any means. Like all great writing, there is something specific here, but also, something which speaks universal truths. She’s connected to her father in her love of literature and ‘being different’ than the cultural norm, and yet, disconnected, as he was aloof and often a glowering presence in their home. All relationships are complicated, no one is perfect, and we lead our separate lives, even if we’re under the same roof. Sometimes it’s easier for us to express ourselves to others, strangers even, as opposed to family members who are supposed to be closest to us.
The book draws extensive references to Camus, Proust, Joyce, and Fitzgerald, yet also American culture of the 70s, and all of it in a light way, with poetic, funny touches. It’s never cloying or sentimental, and yet I found it quite poignant, especially in the scenes that end each chapter. Bechdel is a master in telling this story, touching upon happiness and sadness, truth and conjecture, and love and accepting the flaws of those around us all at the same time. Powerful stuff.
| Jul 4, 2015 |
Wow! I never thought a graphic novel (ok – a tragicomic) can pack such a wallop. It’s poignant, raw, heartfelt, honest, and humorous. In this autobiography, author/artist Alison Bechdel shares the journey of her youth, family, and her homosexuality. The complication of this tale is the discovery of her closeted gay father, who died (possible suicide) four weeks after learning of his daughter’s sexual orientation and two weeks after his wife asked for a divorce. This journey is richly told via four effective medium throughout the pages – 1) dialogue of the actual events, 2) background text of the events, 3) literary references, and 4) the graphic artwork.
The literary references in this book added an immense richness to the tales. Father and daughter are both readers using book characters to mirror thoughts, feelings, and characteristics. F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Colette, Camus, and Marcel Proust were all featured in the book, as well as Oscar Wilde, whose indecent trial coincided with her mom’s theatrical role in “The Importance of Being Ernest”.
Not surprising, this book is very adult oriented with themes of sexual orientation, suicide, emotional abuse, and dysfunctional family life – but perfectly balanced with humor. The revelation of her father’s closeted homosexuality explained a lot of the latent angst in his behavior during their childhood. He was the antagonist of the story, and the book was dedicated to the protagonists – her Mom and her two brothers. Interestingly, the book became the author’s therapy and in her later interviews, she expressed an appreciation for the early generations of gays who led the path to her ability to smoothly come out of the closet even though her father never did. I will add this book was turned into a screen play which became the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical of the Year, with a much more upbeat tone than the book. I hope the father will RIP knowing his daughter has expressed some forgiveness by having a more positive view of her past in this musical.
While I typically have no issues with books that jump back and forth in time, I ding this book somewhat for repeating images/aspects previously shared to align with a chapter’s theme. A bit more editing is warranted, especially the last chapter. Still, I decided it deserves the 5 star rating. It truly is a homerun.
P.S. “Fun Home” = Funeral Home, the father’s family business
On dysfunctional family dynamics:
“Sometimes, when thing were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family. Or at least, the air of authenticity we lent to his exhibit. A sort of still life with children…… I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture…… He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not. That is to say, impeccable.”
“It could be argued that death is inherently absurd, and that grinning is not necessarily an inappropriate response. I mean absurd in the sense of ridiculous, unreasonable. One second a person is there, the next they’re not.”
Credited to Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “The subject of this essay is precisely this relationship between the absurd and suicide, the exact degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurd.”
“Proust refers to his explicitly homosexual characters as ‘inverts.’ I’ve always been fond of this antiquated clinical term. It’s imprecise and insufficient, defining the homosexual as a person whose gender expression is at odds with his or her sex. But in the admittedly limited sample comprising my father and me, perhaps it is sufficient. Not only were we inverts. We were inversions of one another.”
| Jul 4, 2015 |
EDIT: Abril, 2015
[Releyendo e a poquito. ¡Qué ganas de comprarlo en físico!]
: Enero 2015
Estoy un poco revolucionada, así que la siguiente reseña es un desvarío en pocos párrafos. Sepan disculpar.
"Not only we were inverts. We were inversions of one another. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him. He was attempting to express something femenine through me."
Puede sonar absurdo decir que identificada me siento con esto, absurdo y cliché-- se me sale la voz infantil hablando soñadora, admitiendo esto. Pensé que había dejado las identificaciones en la adolescencia, que ya nada podría parecerme remotamente relativo a mi vida (salvo el ocasional personaje masculino que encuentro en alguna que otra ficción... si, suelo encontrarme en más hombres que en mujeres) y, sin embargo, lo que se dice y se muestra en esta novela gráfica es paralelo a mi propia vida (aunque sólo superficialmente la mayoría las veces).
Seguro esto que trato de explicar les debe haber pasado a las miles (de ahí lo
) de personas que se devoraron este recuento autobiográfico (y uso el verbo "devorar" porque se me hace la palabra ideal para describir mi experiencia con la vida de Bechdel y su padre... un sentimiento voraz, de no querer parar de leer, no querer parar de escuchar lo que la autora tiene para contar). Quien haya tenido padres ausentes/presentes, quien haya sentido descontento con los mandatos de género, cualquiera que haya buscado comparaciones en la ficción para aliviar o intentar explicar, a su propia familia (que, encima de todo, es precisamente lo que hace Alison Bechdel es Fun Home! Vaya casualidad!) va a
esta novela gráfica en una sentada.
Cualquiera va a ser capaz de verse en algún cuadro de esta no-ficcion ficcionada...pero no cualquiera tiene el talento para la poesía y la imagen que la propia Bechdel tiene. El refugio casi nostálgico (y quizás desesperado a veces) que la Alison adulta encuentra en las comparaciones que hace de sus padres con personajes de F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James; de ella misma en Colette y de su propia relación con el padre en James Joyce es sencillamente perfecto (sencillo y perfecto).
Y he ahí lo fascinante. El poder encontrar a sus seres queridos y querer entenderlos en los párrafos de otros (¿para sentirse cercana a lo que nunca pudo tener del todo?), es parte de su arte, su modo de luto, una declaración de cariño tardía.
Gran parte gira en torno a aquello que los hijos desconocen acerca de sus padres. Eso que cuando vas creciendo, vas suponiendo--presintiendo casi. Esos secretos que te duelen; ese descubrir que tus viejos son, al fin y al cabo, individuos, seres humanos que tienen una vida aparte de los hijos; cosas que, al entenderlas, el
completamente es lo que te empieza a cambiar a vos, como hijo.
Bechdel sabe de esto. Por ello presenta dos visiones distintas:
una ficción que abarca una cotidianidad un poco triste de ausencia paterna, y una dolorosa realidad. La primera, la vida en familia. La segunda, los padres más allá de los hijos. Las ficciones que ellos mismos inventaron en su descontento con lo que les tocó: el padre inmerso en sus libros, un homosexual reprimido (ante los ojos de la familia, la sociedad, pero no en la privacidad) y la madre multifunción, artista y ama de casa; ambos infelices, ambos ignorando a los hijos, a veces demasiado metidos en los sueños perdidos, los "tiempos perdidos".
Alison se ve en su padre, de algún modo se complementa con él.
Nosotros, lectores, probablemente nos reconozcamos en ellos también.
Me siento medio tarada, medio bastante incapaz de tratar de explicar lo que siento con esto que acabo de leer. Cualquier cosa que agrege ahora me va a parecer insuficiente, para nada a la altura y la fluidez de la prosa de Bechdel (ni que mencionar su talento artístico).
Así que voy a agregar nada más que es una de esas historias que te cambian un poco la vida.
IMPERDIBLE. A veces gracioso, pero más que nada triste. La historia de Bruce (padre) y Alison (hija) se empieza desde la incomprensión y la soledad, para terminar con un cuadro desgarrador pero al mismo tiempo, ya no tan solitario (al menos no absolutamente.) y claramente, basado en el entendimiento que en un principio causó tanta separación.
Una representación de los padres que nunca llegamos a conocer del todo.
| Jun 7, 2015 |
This is a very different kind of book, and the first graphic memoir that I have read. It tends to flow nicely, and the story is engrossing at times. Yet, I did not feel as though there was much insight gained. Overall, I could have taken or left it. Yet, there is quite a bit of depth to it regarding human sexuality and self-discovery.
| May 1, 2015 |
Interestingly enough, I have never had the occasion to read
Dykes to Watch Out For
, Bechdel's arguably more famous work. I picked up
based on her reputation, however, and was immediately absorbed.
is a painfully intimate look at Bechdel's father, and, I think more importantly, of her fraught relationship with him. There are no easy answers or waxing nostalgic in this piece, but a realistic look at a father-daughter relationship. At one point, her father, who is gay, recommends a book to her that delves heavily into homosexuality; Bechdel, also gay, once attempts to open a dialogue with him at this intersection of interests, but there is a generational barrier that she cannot quite overcome. Far from being what binds them together, they find that there is a wall between them that pushes them apart.
With intelligence and often brutal truth, Bechdel seamlessly quotes Proust and Joyce, drawing parallels between her intellectual education and her own maturation and exploration of her sexuality.
There is a conflation of gender performance and sexuality which, while perfectly acceptable, is not always true, and it is important to remember that this is a personal account of Bechdel and her father, and drawing generalizations from one person's biography and autobiography would be dangerous.
The art itself, while never quite reaching any transcendent beauty, is beyond serviceable, and often reveals more than the words themselves. The very cover shows her father and Bechdel sitting on the porch together, a close family portrait. Closer inspection, however, reveals that he is looking away from her and nowhere do they touch: a physical representation of the distance of their relationship.
Bechdel is honest, ruthless, but never bitter, as would be too easy to devolve into with an account such as hers, and while her realism often fades into what feel somewhat like flights of fancy regarding the parallels between her own life and the literary influences surrounding her, her prose is so well-written that it is hard to find fault.
| Apr 23, 2015 |
First read June 2011, second January 2014
| Mar 28, 2015 |
To be honest, I picked Fun Home up simply because I needed a book with a LGBTQ character for Bingo and this book fit. An in depth memoir of Alison Bechtel’s early years, this book made me feel rather sad. Growing up with disturbed and rather removed parents, her life seemed to be played out in various shades of grey, not much color or excitement to speak of. Although Alison eventually “came out” to her parents, this was far from the focus of the story. Her father at that time was dealing with the fact that his wife had asked for a divorce and his own poorly concealed homosexuality. Her mother seems to be very self-centered and turn everything back into how it affected her.
I found myself rather irritated with both the stories and the characters. I feel like the uncool kid that doesn’t get it, but this book left me feeling rather depressed, sad and blah.
| Jan 31, 2015 |
Ever since I read a snippet of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2007 I've wanted to read the whole thing. And now, years later, I finally got around to it. I'm sorry I waited so long. The moments of deadpan hilarity are perfectly balanced with the moments of isolated desperation. I don't know if Alison Bechdel was that well-known before its publication, but she's certainly earned her celebrity status since then. In fact, as I write this, I've just learned that not only has the stage production of Fun Home opened on Broadway but it's also been nominated for 12 Tony awards.
I have a 2-rule maxim for comics: (1) Great writing can carry not-so-great artwork while great artwork cannot do the same—not even close—for lackluster writing. And (2) the quality and style of the artwork has to emotionally match the tone of the story. Fun Home hits these marks and more.
I know nothing of Bechdel's past other than what's portrayed here. I sense she was working through a few skeletons while writing Fun Home, like she was trying to make sense of what happened with the benefit of several decades of hindsight.
| Jan 28, 2015 |
This is the only thing I've ever read which was set in the area I grew up, and it was surreal understanding the references and background so naturally. This comic is a biographical story about the author's father, artfully and skillfully told. While the story itself can be difficult to read and uncomfortable, the author/artist smooths it out with a top-notch presentation.
| Jan 27, 2015 |
Graphic novel/memoir of Bechdel’s … eventful early life. Her father was a deeply closeted homosexual, who took his frustration and self-hatred out on his house—he was obsessed with redecorating their massive Victorian home. They also have a funeral home—started by Bechdel’s great-grandfather—which is where the book’s title originates. Bechdel draws Dykes to Watch Out For, and as personal as that strip is, this is her first effort at memoir. A coming out story set against her dysfunctional family life, this is a top-rated story of how one parent’s demons can affect an entire house.
| Jan 21, 2015 |
I wish I could give this book 8 stars, it was brilliant. I love the way she works her own journal into the narrative as a text, and explores the possibilities offered by different literary references throughout all to flesh out the extraordinarily complicated relationship she has with her dad. There were a lot of resonances here for me personally, and I can't wait to read it again after digesting this first encounter.
| Jan 12, 2015 |
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a graphic memoir that chronicles the childhood of Alison Bechdel, growing up in rural Pennsylvania and her complicated relationships with her father. Alison Bechdel is best known as the person whom the Bechdel test was named after. The Bechdel test is a simple method that can be used to determine if a work of fiction (or movie) is gender biased. To pass the Bechdel test there must be at least two women, who talk to each other about something other than men.
Fun Home is a non-linear account of Alison Bechdel’s childhood with a strong focus on her relationship with her father. A complex relationship, Bruce Bechdel was a funeral director and a high school English teacher. He was obsessed with restoring the family’s Victorian home and often viewed his children as free labour. He was often cold and prone to abusive rage, Alison’s relationship with her father was a difficult one. At 44, he stepped in front of a truck and was killed; while never confirmed, Alison believed her father completed suicide.
After his death, Alison discovered her father was a closeted homosexual who had sexual relationships with his students and babysitters. Alongside this, Fun Home follows Alison’s own struggle with her sexual identity,coming out to her parents before actually knowing her sexual preferences. The graphic novel centres on Alison Bechdel’s thoughts about whether her decision to come out triggered her father’s suicide.
This is a fascinating insight into the mind of Alison Bechdel, not only as a memoir but the struggles that she faced while trying to understand her own identity. Drawn in a gothic style, Bechdel uses blue shading to give her art a dramatic feel. She even uses childhood diary entries to help capture the mood and feel. The dramatic artwork and emotionally charged writing complement each other and really help drive the story.
While I enjoyed Blue is the Warmest Color more as a coming of age story and a struggle with sexuality, Fun Home still remains a wonderful graphic memoir than really packs an emotional punch. Graphic novels and memoirs often get pushed aside and disregarded as works of literature but every now and then comes a work of art that proves this idea wrong. It happened with Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; but Fun Home seemed to be the most common example that comics (I use the term comic as a catch all for graphic novels and memoirs as well) need to be taken more seriously.
I have been reading more comics of late and I have been impressed with the way art and writing can work together to tell a story. I like these graphic novels/memoirs that capture raw emotion, in the writing or art and I am trying to find more like this. While comics by Marvel and DC are a lot of fun, there are so many other works out there that explores this art from an interesting and new way. I really enjoyed Fun Home, it wasn’t a comfortable read but the experience was well worth the effort.
This review originally appeared on my blog;
| Jan 3, 2015 |
I gave a copy of this book to a friend in high school when it was first published, but I had never read it myself. When I discovered my library's extensive comic books section, I made sure to not just check out stuff like World War Hulk because I'm an adult and should probably be reading real books. I figured this would be a good time to finally read Fun Home.
I think I would have enjoyed this more if I had read Ulysses and Proust and Collette, et al. Bechdel says, "I employ these allusions ... not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms. And perhaps my cool aesthetic distance itself does more to convey the Arctic climate of our family than any particular literary comparison." This quote pretty much sums up what I liked and disliked about the novel. Fun Home is a highly intertextual work and while I think the allusions deepen the level of storytelling (I'm also envious of Bechdel's breadth...I really need to read more), some of the references seem a little forced and are only used for two panels and never mentioned again. It would have been more effective to stick with a few references instead of covering what feels to be the entire western canon.
The work is brutally honest, which admittedly is a desirable quality in a memoir but it doesn't always make for a pleasant experience. It's hard to read about this family, which while not exactly abusive, lacks in affection. The moments of intimacy come far and few between, and the ending is heartbreaking. Bechdel attempts to reach out to her father before he commits suicide (her father's death is classified as an accident, but the family suspects otherwise), but the generational differences may be too great to overcome. the last few pages are powerfully rendered.
Bechdel is a talented artist. her style has never been my favorite in the world, but she certainly can draw and she's skillful in her use of the medium. in the memoir, she talks about her art a little (though less than what i would have expected). she tells a story from her childhood about coloring in a coloring book and how after her father criticized her color choice ("it's the CANARY-colored caravan," he points out when he notices that she is coloring it blue), he sits down with her to recolor it. she also tells another story about illustrating a watercolor for a poem her dad helped write, and how afterwards, she would only do monochromatic paintings.
| Jan 2, 2015 |
The openness and reflective mood of the ending recovered a star for me. Her use of Joyce to explore both her discovery of sexuality and of her father (and his) was great.
| Nov 5, 2014 |
The openness and reflective mood of the ending recovered a star for me. Her use of Joyce to explore both her discovery of sexuality and of her father (and his) was great.
| Nov 5, 2014 |
So, it's an autobiography of the author, sorta, I think, and yet it isn't. It's also one ginormous literature allusion. There's a lot of Proust, those I Didn't get so much, and a whole lotta James Joyce, and I definitely got more of those allusions than the Proust ones.
It was also a very dark narrative, though it didn't seem totally depressing, and it was quite funny.
I also liked the art for the most part, which surprised me, because it was all blue (there's probably an arty word for it, but I'm gonna stick with blue). But, even as it was all blue all the characters were very, very expressive as well.
A solid 4 star Graphic Novel.
| Oct 24, 2014 |
Okay. Interesting family. Mostly just about the author and her parents. Quick read.
| Sep 30, 2014 |
Not a graphic novel fan, but this was well illustrated. The story was engaging for a novel-gazing, coming-of-age tale. Connection at the end to Ulysses was a bit of a stretch.
| Sep 23, 2014 |
A graphic novel of a young woman trying to figure out her father's life in retrospect. Only in college, after she comes out as a lesbian, does she finally learn that her father is gay. A few weeks later, her father dies, leaving hundreds of questions unanswered. Her father's distance and the author's early discomfort with her own gender create a massively hollow feeling at the center of this book. It's there for good reason, but still, it's disconcerting.
This book won a lot of acclaim when it first came out, and I've no doubt that it's well-deserved. Still, it will probably never be one of my favorites.
| Sep 20, 2014 |
Fun, witty, and a nice read! :)
| Sep 14, 2014 |
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