Friday, July 20, 2012

Alison Bechdel: Fun Home

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Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" is only the second graphic novel that I've ever read, after "Vietnamerica," and I wouldn't have picked it up if I hadn't read the recent New Yorker article on Bechdel. Like "Vietnamerica," the book is not actually a novel at all, but a memoir, or as the back of the book reads, a "graphic narrative." Tran's story, while a personal one, was also the story of a nation and a people, while Bechdel's is a much more personal story of her childhood and her relationship with her father. Also, Tran's book was as much (or more) about the art as about the story, and I found myself lost in the pictures, and in the act of reading the book. I felt that reading the book was itself part of the pleasure (or non-pleasure- I was confused most of the time.) Bechdel, on the other hand, has a history as a cartoonist, and while her drawings are lovely, they are simple and clear, allowing the reader to follow the words of her story. The words are amplified by the pictures: they work together, rather than being a both/and like "Vietnamerica," "Fun Home" is a whole, like a cartoon. You just look at the frame and understand.

Bechdel is a lesbian, and her father is a troubled man of questionable sexual orientation who may or may not have thrown himself in front of a bus.  "Fun Home" (a nickname for the funeral home run by the family) is a poignant coming of age story that manages to hit home in an entirely dry way. Bechdel doesn't mince words, or spare us any feelings. It's a nice read, until the very end when she lost me entirely. Call me poorly read, but I've never read the Odyssey or Ulysses, and you need to understand both of these books to understand the end of "Fun Home." She walks us through the basic metaphors, but it's not enough. I've read some of the other books she alludes to, but they're side-notes, and Joyce and Homer are not mainstays of my oeuvre. I wanted very much to follow this story to the end, but Bechdel's resolution (at least I think she was resolving something) was lost on me. Unfortunate for an otherwise decent and accessible book.


Katie said...

I started getting into graphic novels/memoirs a few years back. Maus was one of the first I read, and it blew me away. I completely recommend it.