Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, by Alison Bechdel

March 27th, 2008 by

Fun Home, Alison BechdelWith all the awards this book has won, you’d think I would have been more excited to read it. When Florence brought home her signed copy from the reading that she went to with Jason, I gave her a list of excuses about why I didn’t think it was “my kind” of comic. First of all, it didn’t appear to be funny, or have any science fiction or fantasy in it. Secondly, it was more or less in black and white. Finally, it was supposed to be non-fiction for crying out loud! I basically didn’t even think I’d get past the first few pages.

But I did, and boy am I glad I did. (There are a few mild spoilers in the rest of this post.)

I feel like I’ve said this before about something, and I wish I could remember what it was, but I really felt like this comic book lands smack dab in the realm of literature. This book hit me hard. I don’t know if it was all the absent father stuff, or maybe some of the obsessive compulsive stuff we had insight into, but something in this book really resonated with me. I can remember counting drips in the bath tub as a kid, and I used to make deals with myself about what sorts of superstition to have from one day to the next. Anyway, I loved how well this book captures her childhood. I think we really get to feel what it was like for her growing up.

The book operates on so many levels! On one level it’s a relatively straight forward coming of age story. A lesbian coming of age story where the protagonist’s father’s death more or less coincides with her coming out. It’s also about her Father who is clearly a closeted homosexual, and his torrid life which appears to have been rapidly unraveling toward the end. It’s about their relationship, and also, notably about his relationship with his wife, the protagonist’s mother.

On another level this book is a wonderfully drawn comic. It’s about Bechdel’s gorgeously detailed visuals, which not only capture her family from every angle possible, but which also go one step further and capture their handwriting in the numerous parts of the book where we get to see their letters. We also get to see Bechdel’s journal entries, which change noticeably as she gets older in the novel. There was also typeset type all over the place. At some point about halfway through, I simply could not believe how many typefaces there were in the novel. It would be interesting to go back and try to count how many distinct types appear.

On yet another level, the prose in the novel is utterly brilliant. There were parts where I literally re-read sentences because they were so rich and full of detail. (And not all of them were letters from her father.) There were also plenty of interesting references and allusions to famous literary works, including but definitely not limited to the way she ties in many of the plays that her mother is either rehearsing or performing.

In closing, I cannot really recommend this book highly enough. It may not be for everyone, but it was enough “for” me that I feel confident that those of you who know me will find something to like. And those of you who don’t… I challenge you to read just the first chapter and then put it down. I don’t think you’ll want to.

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