Friday, September 08, 2006

Books: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by Alison Bechdel

Quickie Synopsis: Fun Home is the story of Alison Bechdel’s multifaceted childhood, her guarded relationship with her closeted gay father, and her eventual realization that she herself is gay. Told in graphic novel form through illustrations, dialogue, letters, and journal entries, this is a memoir like none other. Readers familiar with her syndicated comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, will recognize Bechdel’s unique blend of dark humor, genuine sympathy, and fearless observations that cut right to the point. Part father-daughter story, part coming-out story, Alison Bechdel shows how intertwined these two narratives have become in her life.


Bechdel crafts her novel in layers upon layers. Memories, experiences, and events link backward and forward along the timeline of her life and the development of the novel. As the reader, there is a feeling of uncovering each layer alongside the author: the journey through her memories is both unexpected and inevitable. Indeed, the level of introspection she reveals in her memoir points to a level of self-awareness that borders on the super-human or, perhaps, several years with a very good therapist. Bechdel’s overall tone is one of melancholy and relief, as if the crafting of the novel was in itself a cathartic experience, and now that the story has been told, she is released to move on in her life.

Additionally, this is simply an aesthetically beautiful book. From the bright orange cover that contrasts so gorgeously with the teal dust jacket and inside cover printing to Bechdel’s meticulous two-color drawings, no detail is overlooked. In her illustrations, Bechdel shows a clear mastery of her craft. Her line drawings are in essence quite basic—no splashy art school angles or over-dramatic shadowing—and yet she is able to convey complex emotions in the arch of an eyebrow and create a precise mood through the arrangement of characters and objects in a single screen.

Graphic novels are slowly gaining in cultural prominence and popularity, and Fun Home is right at the forefront of the movement. I highly recommend this book for anyone curious about the genre. Various reviewers have (favorably) compared Bechdel’s novel to Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, but I honestly think that Fun Home is an all-around better novel. Unlike Persepolis, which I felt was a bit basic and simple (albeit well-drawn), Bechdel’s novel is truly a novel written in graphic form. It is as complex as any ‘regular’ adult novel, thoughtful and thought-provoking, and fantastically entertaining.

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