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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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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.
| 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.
| 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.
| 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.
| Jun 14, 2014 |
One of the most fulfilling memoirs I've ever read, even though it only took about fourty-five minutes to read.
| Jun 6, 2014 |
Q5 - This graphic novel is brilliantly written and drawn. It's the true story of the author's complex relationship with her father, coming of age, and coming out of the closet. The story is really accessible because of the graphic novel format and the writing flows easily and freely.
P3 - The book is autobiographical and very frank. I could see this being a good book to recommend to a teen who is struggling with coming to terms with their own sexuality. However, because of the subject matter, it may not be popular with teens who are not part of the LGBTQ community or supporters. Additionally, I could only find this book in the adult graphic novel section of my local bookstore, so I could foresee this book not reaching a YA audience through the typical means of berrypicking/browsing in the bookstore. I could also foresee issues with this book being challenged frequently in the school or library environment.
| May 21, 2014 |
I should preface this by saying I had to read this book for class, and I was pleasantly surprised.
This isn't exactly what I would call a novel. It's a comic. With comic strips. And more words than I would expect from, say, a newspaper comic, but it's not a novel. That being said, it was fun to read, and I enjoyed it while it lasted. There were lots of interesting references lit lovers while love, and the pictures are very detailed and involved (a surprise to me from a comic), and you definitely had to be paying attention to both the words and the pictures.
I'm glad I read it, but I can't say I'm particularly moved to pick up the sequel. 3.5 stars.
| May 20, 2014 |
Another great example of the graphic novel as memoir/coming-of-age story, this is about the sadness of growing up queer in a family hollowed out by deep denial and sexual repression. Yet another reminder that Americans don't actually have to experience poverty, illness, violence or war to make a nightmare of their lives, just pretending to be normal will do it.
But it's also a love letter to capital-L Literature, full of tributes to and real affinity for Great Books, as well as the story of a kind of triumph, or at least survival. It's funny and wise and bittersweet, like all the best coming of age tales.
| May 3, 2014 |
Potentially good for LGBT youth and adults, but I'm doubtful that others would read beyond the first two chapters. The novel is well written, but includes historical and literary connections or jokes that one without being well-read will have difficulty understanding or relating to.
| Apr 21, 2014 |
I love this novel! Alison Bechdel is so refreshingly honest in her writing, holding nothing back even when describing her own insecurities and faults. I don't know if Bechdel's beliefs of her father's final moments are true, but what's important is that she came to understand him and herself through his actions, which is more than what many children can say of their relationships with their parents. It is difficult to recognize our parents as separate from us, but Bechdel has reached inside herself to understand and let go of the pain she built up around her father. This book speaks to those who struggle to let go, and allows readers to learn from both her and her father's experience. It is better to be who you are and live with the consequences than die never having been yourself.
| Apr 21, 2014 |
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is an autobiographical graphic novel (or a “graphic memoir,” if you prefer) that explores the complexities of love, loss, and growing up in a family that just doesn’t seem to fit. In a nonlinear narrative, Bechdel delivers an in-depth character study of both herself and her emotionally distant, sometimes volatile father. The title serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it is the Bechdels’ nickname for the family funeral home, an example of Bechdel’s frequent dark humor. Secondly, it perfectly captures the relationship between Alison and her father – both reflections and distortions of each other and their literary heroes. The language and inclusion of many mythological and literary allusions could be challenging for some readers, but they may also be inspired to attempt some of the classic literature Bechdel so frequently references.
| Apr 21, 2014 |
This autobiographical work is a stunningly well-done piece of literature. The quality of writing is superb especially in combination with endearing and easy-to-follow illustrations that enhance the understanding of the text and contribute to its entertaining quality. The quality extends to a heavy use of references to great works of literature and advanced vocabulary heavily peppered throughout the novel. The headiness of the work combined with mature themes of sexuality is the only reason that I gave this work a 3P rather than a 4P. I feel some teens would struggle with the language and dense literary allusions and metaphors. This is a graphic novel that I would recommend to just about any teen up to the challenge. Blechdel's narrative voice is compelling and I couldn't put the novel down until I was done. Her treatment of sexual identity, family dynamics, homosexuality and obsessive-compulsive disorder, is honest and enlightening. This book would be a good counter-argument to any critic who claims that graphic novels are not works of serious literary merit. Fun Home is highly academic and socially provocative and deserves a place alongside the most respected of autobiographical works.
| Apr 21, 2014 |
VOYA - 4Q 3P
Confession: Before this, I had never read a graphic novel. I always associated them with Manga and superheroes - I KNOW. SHAME. However, this novel has forever changed that perspective for me. It is wonderfully written and so incredibly touching. The graphics are so wonderful and while overall this novel is a quick read, I had to make sure to take the time to look at each frame carefully in order to fully absorb the details the author put in each of them. I don't think this book will appeal to everyone but I think it's a wonderful story that should be read. That being said, there are quire a bit of references that might make teens feel alienated or might find them needing to look things up, etc which could be turn off (aka, why it didn't get 5Q).
| Apr 20, 2014 |
Fun Home is a fantastic book. The illustrations pair so nicely with the text, it is impossible to imagine this work outside of its graphic novel format. Sometimes Bechdel discusses a classic work of literature in the text while using the illustrations to portray her family living out scenarios similar to those depicted in the cited literature. This is a wonderful tactic and earns this book a 5Q from me. In terms of popularity, I believe Fun Home could appeal to mature teen readers with pushing. The vocabulary is quite sophisticated, and might require more work from the reader, but would be well worth the effort. It may even encourage readers to explore other works of literature.
I personally enjoyed Fun Home very much, and would recommend it widely to adult readers as well as older teens, and will use it as an exemplar of a superb graphic novel that is absolutely nothing like what most people expect from graphic novels, which are often confused with "comics".
| Apr 19, 2014 |
4Q 3P (my VOYA rating) "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic" is a graphic novel which explores the personal and family history of author Alison Bechdel. Through this "tragicomic" we see Alison realize her own sexuality, discover her dad's secrets, and her memories of the emotional intimacy, or lack of it at times, in her family. "Fun Home" also balances using metaphors from classic literature like James Joyce's "Ulysses" for both her relationship with her father and her own sexual discovery as a young lesbian woman with real emotional reactions. I gave this book a rating of 4 for quality, as I thought is done really well, but got into some trouble, from my point of view, with the usage of so much classic literature for comparisons. It could read a little confusing at times. I gave a 3 for popularity because I think that although this is a graphic novel, the content wouldn't be widely appealing to a lot of teenagers. I think it should be read and is well worth reading, but it might take a little pushing.
| Apr 18, 2014 |
I have to preface my review by stating that I read Bechdel's memoir for the first time in a course about shattering reality, and because of this took a closer look at the memoir than I might have otherwise. "Fun Home" is an engaging reading that allows the reader to connect with Alison in a way that the traditional memoir would not have. The visual elements of the novel offer a literal window into the childhood and upbringing of the protagonist that is both compelling and poignant.
However, and I stress this the content of the novel is unlikely to be accepted by those seeking a novel for easy reading. Nothing about this "tragicom" is easy reading. The situations are complex and the authors father's emotional ambiguity and difficulties faced by Bechdel in childhood are difficult to take in, although the comic itself lends to the coherency of articulating these emotions.
| Apr 18, 2014 |
Fun home is a window into the life and growing up of the author Bechdel, focused primarily on the sometimes difficult relationship that she and her family had with her father. Through the illustrations of the graphic novel format and through quick caption like sentences she manages to capture much of the strangeness of growing up and developing into the person you are going to become. We see things through her eyes at various ages, see how she often did not understand the things that were going on around her, and see the literary framework upon which she hangs the entire story, often comparing her father to Fitzgerald or one of his characters, or comparing parts of her life to different parts of Joyce's Ulysses. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I was hoping that I would. (I generally adore graphic novels)
| Apr 18, 2014 |
As a lover of memoirs, especially those where I am invited to be an intimate voyeur of the often brutal yet beautiful experiences of life, reading "Fun Home" was both a heartbreaking and tragically comical journey. Written as a graphic novel, Alison Bechdel tells the story of her disjointed and non-emotive family through words and pictures - still shots transported from her memory onto paper. Her parent's marriage is distant and obligatory, a facade that hides deeper secrets of her Dad's homosexuality. Her Dad runs the local funeral home and is both compulsive and obsessed with his personal and external image. The details of his 19th century Victorian home and yard compete for his time as he is as equally obsessed with great works of literature and art. The words she does not write are often conveyed more powerfully through the images that she draws. Ultimately, this story is about Alison's journey and realization of her own sexual identity through literature, a place that she finds a connection with her Dad, her Dad's tragic death and the secrets she discovers about his own homosexuality.
As much as I love this book both the language and literary references are deep in this novel. Bechdel uses some big words in this memoir such as, "bargeboard," "scuttwork," and "humectant" so, a dictionary is needed. Also, the literary knowledge and familiarity with some of the literature that bridges the lives between her and her Dad is also sometimes confusing. These could be some challenges for youth although, the broader topics are so deep and moving that the language and literature can be overlooked and the value of the book still stands.
“I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one's erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.”
| Apr 16, 2014 |
VOYA: 5Q, 4P
This graphic novel memoir, much like the author's life, cannot be reduced down to any one major event or life changing realization. Life is a series of life changing choices, realizations, discoveries, and deceits. Our lives are linked to and affected by the choices of our parents and their parents before them. However, we are not powerless to make our own way in the world. Reading this reminded me that all families have skeletons in their closets and unresolved questions. While Alison certainly was dealt a hand that gave her plenty to talk about in therapy (or share with us in comic form), she also shows us that our early influences don't have to fully dictate our own paths. Darkly funny, compelling, and honest.
| Apr 16, 2014 |
4Q 4P A/YA. This has been on my too read list for ages and I can't believe it kept passing this gem off! Alison Bechdel is a great story teller who gives readers an inside look into her childhood. Chronicled as a graphic novel we see the distant relationship with her closeted homosexual father, her distant mother and off beat life style. She has sleepovers at her grandparent's funeral homes and grapples with her own identity. Impressed by her honesty and strong voice, I couldn't put this down! The art in this book is simple and clean yet concise, added an intimacy to the story. A must read for Graphic novel readers or anyone who enjoyed memoirs and stories about family dynamics.
| Apr 14, 2014 |
Alison Bechdel tells the story of her family and childhood through the lens of her father, guided by a cornucopia of literary references and connections. The story is told asynchronistically, jumping back and forth through time as Alison adds a new layer of analysis to her upbringing. The vocabulary and sentence structure is indicative of Bechdel's literary education and equally matches the intricacy of each drawing. Often times I felt that she was trying to hard to make connections between her life and the lives of those she read about, but the story is fairly aware of this, which helps to alleviate staunch triteness. I wanted to love this book because I like Alison Bechdel, but I can't say I loved it.
| Apr 14, 2014 |
I enjoyed every minute of it!
| Mar 5, 2014 |
| Feb 19, 2014 |
Fun Home is an extremely well-done graphic memoir about the author's childhood and her complicated relationship with her father, who seems to have lived his life as a closeted gay man. Bechdel's own experience discovering her preference for women brings a complicated and understanding perspective to the contradictions in her father's life as he lives in his small hometown as husband, father, schoolteacher, and part-time funeral director. Her storytelling prowess and ability to bring literary allusions to bear on the aspects of her tale take this book to a level decidedly above many of its peers in the graphic novel category.
| Feb 8, 2014 |
Awesome. This hit home for me in a lot of ways -- not in the omg, that's my life way, but there's a ton of things that resonated for me emotionally. Also, I find memoirs of women who are a little older than me are so interesting because of the different perspectives and influences from the same events. Or maybe I'm looking for the big sister I never had, I don't know.
My rating is less rational than sheer joy and YES at the book. I could probably talk myself into a critique of the last couple of pages, but I don't want to. I'm comfortable with my joy.
There are obvious parallels with Persepolis (I) by Marjane Satrapi, and I don't know which came first, but Fun Home worked better for me because I have more in common with Bechdel's rural upbringing. Call it a city mouse/country mouse thing if you will. It's a fundamental cultural outlook, I guess, i.e. even if you do move to the city and become a cosmopolitan intellectual, it's different from being raised by them.
Also, I was reminded of so many books and so many writers in the course of reading (yay excerpts!) whom I read and loved years ago (Collette!) and had since forgotten. I love rediscovering lost loves. :)
Note: I have read very little of Dykes to Watch Out For and then only in passing over the years rather than doing the whole archive in order. I should probably put that on my list.
| Feb 7, 2014 |
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