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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison…
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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (original 2006; edition 2007)

by Alison Bechdel

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4,1982351,191 (4.2)363
Summary: 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.

Review: 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 Fun Home 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.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended, particularly for people who like memoirs, but maybe even for people that think they don't. ( )
4 vote fyrefly98 | Jul 8, 2012 |
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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. ( )
  TiffanyAK | 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 Fun Home based on her reputation, however, and was immediately absorbed.

Fun Home 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. ( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
First read June 2011, second January 2014 ( )
  winedrunksea | 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. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | 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. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | 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. ( )
  wishanem | 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. ( )
  vlcraven | 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. ( )
  librarycatnip | 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; http://literary-exploration.com/2015/01/02/fun-home-by-alison-bechdel/ ( )
  knowledge_lost | 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. ( )
  megantron | 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. ( )
  wjmcomposer | 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. ( )
  wjmcomposer | 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. ( )
1 vote DanieXJ | Oct 24, 2014 |
Okay. Interesting family. Mostly just about the author and her parents. Quick read. ( )
  njcur | 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. ( )
  KymmAC | 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. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Fun, witty, and a nice read! :) ( )
  Czarmoriarty | Sep 14, 2014 |
This grapohic novel is so literary! Besides the descriptions of a family in despair or just silence, Bechdel adds a whole cultural universe to the reading experience. This is perfection! ( )
  casparia | Sep 13, 2014 |
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. ( )
  raselyem7 | Aug 30, 2014 |
I have wanted to read this graphic novel for a long time. It just sounded so interesting and it was very interesting. It’s incredibly well done, very funny, emotionally engaging, and full of interesting literary references.

This is an autobiographical novel by Bechdel and it was incredibly engaging and well done. Alison lives with her interior decorating obsessed father. Her father is also manic-depressive and a closet gay man. As you can imagine the marriage between Alison’s father and mother is very strained. To add to the macabre humor of it all Alison’s father owns and runs a funeral home which they call the “Fun Home”.

The book bounces between a number of times in Alison’s life. From when she was a child to an adult and back to a child. It is mainly told as a reflection of her growing up with her father after she hears about his death. She thinks about the many things she saw him doing as a child that she didn’t really understand until she got older.

Woven through all of this story is Alison’s own realization that she is a lesbian and what that confession did (or didn’t do) to her family. You get to watch as Alison’s dad struggles to form her into the perfect girl that he could never be (and Alison never wanted to be) and as Alison’s dad sneaks off for secret liaisons with other men.

The story takes place in a rural and very non-tolerant town in Pennsylvania mainly in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Bits and pieces of the history of era are woven throughout the story.

Alison’s father also had a deep love for literature, which Alison herself develops as she gets older. This provides a bridge between Alison and her father, we also get to read a lot of literature references throughout the story that have meaning to our characters’ lives.

This is a book that is easy to read and at first seems a bit meandering, but it is also incredibly thought-provoking. It does an excellent job of making you look on and reflect on your own life. I especially enjoyed how the characters’ feelings for each other ebb and flow and they go from understanding and relating to each other to hating each other. The whole thing just captures family dynamics very well (if a bit more dramatically than most families).

The drawing throughout is very well done. It’s a fairly simple style interspersed with some very detailed lifelike drawings. I pretty much read the whole book in one sitting and loved the way it ended.

This is one of those very complex and emotional novels that will make you laugh, cry, wonder and consider how society influences relationships. It’s very masterfully done and was impossible to put down.

Overall a very masterfully done graphic novel autobiography. Really I have never read anything like this before. I highly recommend it. I would recommend for older teen or adult only, there are some graphic sex scenes and discussion about sex. I bet this is one of those books they are recommending for GLBT classes in college...there is just so much in here to discuss and think about. ( )
1 vote krau0098 | Jul 27, 2014 |
I'm not exactly sure what to make of this book. On one hand, I find the narrator incredibly annoying. Throughout the novel, the reader is assaulted by literary references: Joyce, Proust, Fitzgerald among others. Although the narrator states that she understands her parents better through literature, often the descriptions seem forced or dry or too undeveloped (despite the wordiness of these pages) to be interesting. However, when Bechdel focuses on actual interactions between her family members, such as when her father sends her to change for not having matching necklines, the scenes about her missing hair barrette, or the conversation they have about a book her father loaned her, the book is incredibly moving. It's impossible not to ache for all of the characters. I dislike the way Bechdel tries to force her characters to fit the molds of fictional characters when her characters are so much more compelling as their own people. ( )
  EEDevore | Jul 8, 2014 |
Culturally we seem to hold this idea that both comics and stories about young people are necessarily intended for a young audience. Fun Home shows us how false this thinking is. In Fun Home, we get to see a young character (Alison) who embraces her identity (and sexuality) and comes out to her parents while still a teenager. That’s contrasted with an older character (Bechdel’s father) who, because of the time he grew up in, doesn’t have that option. Bruce is pushed by his culture to marry someone who seems to fit the mould of what he thinks (or what society thinks) a relationship is supposed to look like. The decades of repression and internalize homophobia lead to grossly inappropriate behaviors. Alison and Bruce stand in stark contrast to one another, a chilling example of an older generation’s way of thinking giving way to that of a new one.
( )
  MCHBurke | Jul 7, 2014 |
This graphic novel was suggested to me by a friend who said her book club had read it. I'm sure it would have provoked a lot of discussion. Alison Bechdel has pulled the covers off her family secrets and you have to admire her guts. I'm sure I wouldn't have the nerve to do this and I doubt my family would talk to me after if I did.

The title comes from what Alison and her siblings called the family business which was a funeral home. That alone would provide plenty of material for a book but throw in a father who restores old buildings and decorates them to the nines who is also an English teacher and a closeted gay man and you have a barn burner of a book. And then... but I'll let you find out what else happens. There is also some very interesting discussion about English literature, especially James Joyce, which makes me wish I had managed to finish at least one of Joyce's books.

The drawing style is detailed and vivid and enhances the written words.

Recommended. ( )
  gypsysmom | Jul 6, 2014 |
Complicated, dense, fascinating memoir of growing up in a dysfunctional family with unhappy parents. Her father was apparently gay, but closeted, and seems to have been manic depressive. Bechdel describes her own childhood neuroses and her eventual coming out, and wonders if that triggered her father's death, which could have been a suicide. I read Dykes to Watch Out For for years (when I lived where I could pick up papers that carried it) and already loved her drawings but this is on a whole other level as she finds connections between various family events, literature, her own coming out, gay history, and more. ( )
1 vote piemouth | Jun 14, 2014 |
One of the most fulfilling memoirs I've ever read, even though it only took about fourty-five minutes to read. ( )
  marthaearly | Jun 6, 2014 |
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