Sunday, February 04, 2007

4. Fun Home

by Alison Bechdel

I don’t know if you could have gone through 2006 without hearing about Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and the massive amounts of praise heaped upon it. Now, you know I’m a used or remaindered bookstore kind of girl, but having very little luck finding comics and graphic novels in the stores I frequent, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’ll just have to purchase these full price. I guess part of my penchant for the used books is that, in addition to being able to steadily add to my library on a budget, when I buy a book that I end up disliking, I’ve only spent five or six bucks on it. I could have easily spent that amount on a frou-frou coffee, if I drank the things. So I’ll have to be a bit more discriminating when it comes to the graphic novels, but I’m happy to say that with Fun Home, it was worth those extra bucks.

Fun Home has received a lot of comparisons to Six Feet Under because it’s about a funeral home and there are gay people in it. I mean, just because someone writes a story about a man with incredible strength and speed and x-ray vision doesn’t mean it automatically has to be compared to Superman, does it? Okay, I guess it does, but my point is that I think Fun Home is getting shortchanged in the comparison because it seems to stop at the dead bodies and the homosexuality and, truly, both the book and the show are about much more than that.

Fun Home is Bechdel’s memoir and focuses on her closeted father as much as it does on her own coming out. It’s not so much a story told from the point of view of Alison growing up, but from her viewpoint as an adult recollecting specific instances. She doesn’t try to remember every little detail about her childhood, but instead reflects on these scenes that stand out to her. I found this aspect of Bechdel’s storytelling particularly effective because that’s truly how we remember things – not in minute detail, but in flashes of sights and scents and touch. The scene where Bechdel describes the memory of her father bathing her as a child – the cup he used to pour water over her head, the feeling of the water as it goes over her and runs down her body – captures all the innocence of a child who can’t let go of all that her father did right.

I also liked that Bechdel didn’t spend the entire book vilifying her father. It’s clear from the story that there’s much for which he could be condemned, like his ability to get angry at the drop of a dime not to mention the homosexual affairs with minors (there’s a reason to hate your father right there), but Bechdel instead tries to uncover what her father must have been dealing with and whether his death was really an accident or self-imposed. Coupled with her own homosexual discoveries in college, Bechdel could have easily taken the usual my-father-was-screwed-up-so-now-I-am-too approach, and there’s certainly an audience for that type of stuff, but the fact that she employs her intellect and curiosity, rather than animosity, shows a level of maturity and accountability that a lot of memoirists don’t possess. It’s quite refreshing.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the art, which is gorgeous. My first instinct is to call it sepia-toned, which it isn’t, but those words evoke a certain sense of nostalgia and photographic history that Bechdel brings to her illustrations. In truth, they’re washed in blue, but they’re filled with the sorts of details one could usually only expect from perfect pictures. From book titles to handwriting to even her own nude body, Bechdel neglects not one detail, which I find kind of brave. Of course, we’d have no idea how accurate these details really are, but it certainly feels like she put everything out there, even those little inconsequential things that only those close to us know. The point of a memoir is to expose – both good and bad – and we get the best of it here. I’m really glad I spent the money on it.


Blogger piksea said...

I definitely want to read Fun Home. Have you read Blankets? It's also controversial, but very good. I think, maybe the graphic component in these autobiographical tales makes them even more personal, or intimate. It definitely adds a facet that I don't find in traditional memoirs.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Dewey said...

I can't wait to read this! It's been on my bookmooch list for a while, but every time it becomes available some quick bastard snags it before I can!th

5:25 PM  

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