Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few wee...

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Title:Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author:Alison Bechdel
Rating:
ISBN:0618871713
Edition Language:English
Format Type:Paperback
Number of Pages:232 pages

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic Reviews

  • Emily
    Sep 15, 2007

    Having never felt much inclination toward the graphic novel genre, I accepted a copy of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel on loan only because a coworker promised that I could finish it in one hour and forty minutes--almost precisely the amount of time it would take to travel from the office to my home in Connecticut, where I had plans to spend the weekend.

    One hour and fifty-five minutes later, when my mom pulled in her mini-van, I was close to the end, but not there yet. I'm a slow reader. But Fun Hom

    Having never felt much inclination toward the graphic novel genre, I accepted a copy of Fun Home by Alison Bechdel on loan only because a coworker promised that I could finish it in one hour and forty minutes--almost precisely the amount of time it would take to travel from the office to my home in Connecticut, where I had plans to spend the weekend.

    One hour and fifty-five minutes later, when my mom pulled in her mini-van, I was close to the end, but not there yet. I'm a slow reader. But Fun Home is also a book that demands patient, meticulous study. I examined every illustration, looking for the visual details that Alison, a cartoonist, has tucked in, here and there. Hidden like easter eggs, there are amusing details meant to be discovered on particularly grim pages. Alison can also make the most simplistic details - Road Runner on the TV; period cars; recurring appearances of the Sun Beam Bread logo - realistic, melancholy, and heartrending all at once.

    And the story itself, the misery and the humor of the characters, the events, and the time period, must be thoughtfully digested. The book is divided into seven chapters, each based on a different theme in the author's childhood and young adult life. Each one on its own could be a personal essay about overcoming an unusual hardship, but the episodes are tied together by recurring moments - the scene in which Alison learns her father's deepest darkest secret over the phone; the stack of literature on homosexuality that grows and grows on her nightstand in college; her father writing letters to her mother from his bunk during the war - and references to classic literature that are carefully, artfully implemented and never daunting.

    As a memoir, Fun Home is beautifully arranged and as honest and unapologetic as they come. Alison writes and draws as if she is still putting together the pieces as she does so, and closes the book with the impression that the story is not over. Which of course, it is not, since the author, her two brothers, and their mother, all survive the father they never had and then lost. Fun Home illustrates the fact that we never truly escape the legacies of our parents and never completely outgrow our childhood experiences. Alison wrote a note in the Advance Readers Edition, which I read, in which she notes: "the actual documentary truth [as recorded in diaries, letters, clippings and photographs from her childhood] was almost always richer and more surprising than the way [she] had remembered a particular event." In Fun Home, Alison does not just explore the far reaches of her memory. She revisits it as if seeing it all happen again, literally, graphically, for the first time.

  • Meg Powers
    May 05, 2010

    Reading

    put me in the same irritated and impatient mood experienced when reading Toni Morrison's

    in high school: both books feel like major wank-offs to the writers' cumulative reading endeavors. To put it in less crude terms, both books overflow with self-conscious references to classic literature (both use

    in a major way). However, this is not a review of

    , so I suppose I will set aside that grudge for now.

    This is

    Reading

    put me in the same irritated and impatient mood experienced when reading Toni Morrison's

    in high school: both books feel like major wank-offs to the writers' cumulative reading endeavors. To put it in less crude terms, both books overflow with self-conscious references to classic literature (both use

    in a major way). However, this is not a review of

    , so I suppose I will set aside that grudge for now.

    This is how I feel: any person, no matter how mediocre his/her life might be perceived, can be made into a great story. The key to this is good writing, and although Bechdel's writing is ORNAMENTAL, it's not engaging. She doesn't make me care about her, and I care only a little bit about her dad, whom the book focuses on. The constant literary references (Joyce, Camus, Proust, Wilde, etc) do not impress me and they do not enrich the story she is telling. Bechdel continuously draws parallels to anything and everything literary. Comparing the map in

    to a map of her local terrain is one thing: comparing her first act of performing cunnilingus to entering Homer's cave of Polyphemus made me groan out loud. Bechdel also uses dictionary definitions as an ongoing motif, a cliche that ALWAYS annoys me ("'orgasm: or-gaz-um-' "what is an orgasm? what does it mean in the context of my own life? Let's examine this word and blah blah blah blah" <---bitchy paraphrasing).

    I will say I have never been a fan of

    or Alison Bechdel's drawing style in general (and my enjoyment of a comic, as is typical, is largely derived from the visual component) , so it is unfair to complain about that here;it's a matter of taste. However, if the facial expressions were rendered differently, and if Bechdel shook out the masturbatory references and word definitions, she might have sold me.

    But no.

  • Paul Bryant
    Jun 18, 2010

    THIS JUST IN : P BRYANT FAILS HIP GRAPHIC NOVEL TEST

    Fun Home, a cripplingly hip graphic novel, is....

    Yes?

    It's....

    YES??

    Well, let's see, it's, you know, all right, good, yes, nods head, hummphs into beard, pulls earlobe, raises eyebrows, waves hands in a vague direction, shifts about in seat. You know. Don't get me wrong. It was good. Yes. Cool, clever, really hip, I mean, really, as far as I can tell, my hipometer needs a new battery I think; it was not the least bit funny, but that's not such a

    THIS JUST IN : P BRYANT FAILS HIP GRAPHIC NOVEL TEST

    Fun Home, a cripplingly hip graphic novel, is....

    Yes?

    It's....

    YES??

    Well, let's see, it's, you know, all right, good, yes, nods head, hummphs into beard, pulls earlobe, raises eyebrows, waves hands in a vague direction, shifts about in seat. You know. Don't get me wrong. It was good. Yes. Cool, clever, really hip, I mean, really, as far as I can tell, my hipometer needs a new battery I think; it was not the least bit funny, but that's not such a bad thing, and...

    Stares at ceiling.

    Has sudden thought.

    Hey, you don't think Alison Bechdel will read this do you, she's not one of those Goodreads authors who suddenly jump up like a damned jack in a box and scare the jesus out of you and tell you they devoted

    of

    to this work you've just more or less sneered at and damned with the faintest possible praise, I really hope not, that's not happened to me yet but I know it's happened to a few of you and it's not pretty, some of you were mildly traumatised, I saw it with my own eyes, you had to be led away to a quiet good place with a small cat to stroke.

    So... Fun Room. It was all sweetly sad and worthy, painfully so, all about Alison's father who was this closet gay or bi living the whole of his life in a small Pennsylvanian town. So his temperament ran towards the dour and repressed and the sublimating-everything-into-his-house-restoration and then lo! shazam! Alison figures this out and also -

    that she herself is gay, and then they become a lot closer and then stuff happens but

    . I wanted more stuff. I'm unreasonable.

    I read books for stuff, you know.

  • Oriana
    Jul 21, 2010

    Book #4 for Jugs & Capes, my all-girl graphic-novel book club!

    You can also read this review (slightly tweaked) on

    .

    ***

    I've been wanting to read this book for

    . Isn't it crazy that I had to start an entire graphic novel book club to somehow give myself permission to read it?

    Perhaps. But who cares about the machinations I forced myself through to get to it? I am

    glad I did. This book is simply spectacular. It is dense, fraught with meaning, stuffed with prose and complimented by

    Book #4 for Jugs & Capes, my all-girl graphic-novel book club!

    You can also read this review (slightly tweaked) on

    .

    ***

    I've been wanting to read this book for

    . Isn't it crazy that I had to start an entire graphic novel book club to somehow give myself permission to read it?

    Perhaps. But who cares about the machinations I forced myself through to get to it? I am

    glad I did. This book is simply spectacular. It is dense, fraught with meaning, stuffed with prose and complimented by simple illustrations. And in addition to being incredibly smart, incredibly illuminating, and incredibly inventive, it's also incredibly sexy. There's a scene where Alison and her girlfriend are in bed together making out, while

    . Sexy nerdery! Incredible!

    In case anyone doesn't know,

    is a memoir about Alison Bechdel's childhood and early adulthood. She has two younger brothers, an actress mother, and a father who teaches high-school English and runs a funeral home. Yeah. Oh, and dad's a deeply closeted gay.

    I'd like, as I always do with well-done memoirs, to invoke one of the blurbs on my favorite-ever memoir,

    : Finally, someone with a life worth writing about has got the skill to write about it. Oh, Alison, what skill! What a life! What a uniquely wonderful way of telling it!

    The book has seven chapters, each of which is structured around a book. And I'm not talking about lowbrow or predictably canonized books, either; we've got Icarus and Dedalus, Camus's

    ,

    , Proust,

    , Henry James, and

    . Holy moly, Alison is one smart cookie. She shrewdly and exhaustively catalogues and examines the parallels between these disparate works and the structure and choices and emotional makeup of her family, enhancing an already fascinating story with layers of intertextual readings and adept analysis. She says: "I employ these allusions to James and Fitzgerald not only as descriptive devices, but because my parents are most real to me in fictional terms. And perhaps my cool aesthetic distance itself does more to convey the arctic climate of our family than any particular literary comparison." That makes me shiver.

    Her language made me shiver a lot, actually, which is not something I expect from a graphic novel. (But let me reiterate that I've read probably less than a dozen graphic novels in my adult life, so excuse me if that's a stupid assumption.) Her prose is complex, lyrical, intelligent, and apt. She describes a summer afternoon in Greenwich Village by saying, "the city was reduced, like a long-simmering demiglace, to a fragrance of stunning richness and complexity." In a section which covers her own puberty as it coincides with a cicada summer, she says, "Next the locusts settled down to an orgy in our tall maple trees, cloaking us from dawn to dusk in the ambient noise of their conjugal exertions." In the chapter about her own journey of coming out as a lesbian (which is also the

    chapter), she says, "I was adrift on the high seas, but my course was becoming clear. It lay between the scylla of my peers and the swirling, sucking charybdis of my family."

    And I haven't even gotten to the art yet. I'm still working out how I relate to graphic novels, and it turns out I'm both too harsh a judge and also too easy. It takes little to impress me artistically—much less than it takes to impress me literarily, for sure—and so I find almost any art to be good. On the other hand, though, when I read graphic novels, I can't stop wondering why the author chose this format to tell his or her story, which is certainly not something I ever stop to consider with straight prose. Due to this, I actually find myself a little bit distracted, over-examining many of the frames in order to try to parse just

    this story needed illustrating. I did that a lot in this book too, and while I didn't come to a clear answer, I did find many frames that were not just augmented, but wholly

    , for the better of course, by the compliment of the illustration.

    For example, there's a half-page frame at the end of a chapter that shows Alison visiting her father's grave. With a short phrase of text that only harkens back to an anecdote related earlier in the chapter, the reader is free to attach all the end-of-chapter meaning to this large image, which is the graveyard, at twilight (probably; the shadows are long), empty but for Alison lying on her back in front of her father's monument, her bike on its side next to her. This is such a beautiful, aching image! And she didn't have to bother spelling out her loneliness, her puzzlement, the hours she spent in silent communion with her dead father. It's all there, exquisitely bare. Or in another image, full page, she compares a picture of her father at twenty-two to a picture of herself at twenty-one. In this one she does use words to enumerate certain similarities—pained grin, flexible wrists, angle of shadow on faces—but still the illustrations augment these bare-bones descriptions brilliantly. One last example: as she discusses the artifice in her childhood diary (she has written, "We might have to move! How horrid!"), the text reads, "

    has a slightly facetious tone that strikes me a Wildean. It appears to embrace the actual horror—puberty, public disgrace—then at the last second nimbly sidesteps it, laughing." The illustration here? Alison and her father watching, on TV, the Roadrunner eat the "free birdseed" and then speed away just before the anvil comes crashing down on his head. So there's the wry literary analysis of herself as an over-dramatic teen, the sharply augmenting pop-culture parallel, and then also the overlay of she and her father laughing together, in a rare moment of closeness. What a terrific, multi-layered whole!

    There's so much left that I didn't talk about yet, but I suppose it won't do any good to say much more. This book is an absolutely astonishing delight, and if I haven't convinced you of that yet, I'm not going to bother trying anymore.

  • Patrick
    Jan 03, 2014

    I've known about Bechdel for some time, but I've never gotten around to reading any of her work.

    Odds are, you know about her too, even if you're not aware of it. She's the one that invented the appropriately-named Bechdel Test for movies.

    If you don't know about the test, it bears talking about. It's almost like a checklist:

    1. Does the movie have two female characters in it?

    2. Do the two female characters have at least one conversation?

    3. Does at least one of their conversations concentrate o

    I've known about Bechdel for some time, but I've never gotten around to reading any of her work.

    Odds are, you know about her too, even if you're not aware of it. She's the one that invented the appropriately-named Bechdel Test for movies.

    If you don't know about the test, it bears talking about. It's almost like a checklist:

    1. Does the movie have two female characters in it?

    2. Do the two female characters have at least one conversation?

    3. Does at least one of their conversations concentrate on something other than a man?

    If the answer to any of these is "no" you fail the test.

    To me, the truly interesting thing about this test isn't how many movies utterly fail it. It's that when you're first exposed to the test, you're forced to confront how fucked up the gender bias in almost all media is.

    Anyway, I picked up the comic because I was curious what her writing was like. And because it's odd to see a graphic novel that's won so much literary attention. (This book has a *ton* of awards and accolades.)

    Did I like it? Yes.

    It's cleverly written. Very earnest and heartfelt. It's fascinating.

    Did I *lurve* it? No.

    I admire the craft in the book. It was emotionally engaging without being maudlin. It was artfully constructed. It shared an experience with me that I never would have gained anywhere else. I'd happily recommend it to a lot of my friends.

    But for me, that's where it stops. Enjoyment and admiration of the craft. This book is a wonderful example of: "Great books that are not perfectly targeted for me."

    Now don't get me wrong. It was fascinating. Books I whole-heartedly enjoy and admire are still in the top 5%. But what really rings the bell that hangs in your heart is mostly a matter of flavor, and this one wasn't quite suited to me.

    Is it worth your time? Yes.

    That said, you're more likely to enjoy it if you're a recovering English major. Or if you're a fan of queer culture, autobiographical fiction, or non-superhero graphic novels.

  • Samadrita
    Sep 21, 2014

    3.5/5

    biggest flaw is its self-conscious, droll narrative voice that diminishes its raw earnestness at times. Alison Bechdel imposes her obsessive-compulsive desire for extracting meaning from even the most commonplace of occurrences on to a narrative of coming to terms with personal loss. And this whole exercize of drawing parallels between fictional and real life tragedies and pivotal emotional beats becomes too trite all too soon. Maybe she should have known when to put the kibosh o

    3.5/5

    biggest flaw is its self-conscious, droll narrative voice that diminishes its raw earnestness at times. Alison Bechdel imposes her obsessive-compulsive desire for extracting meaning from even the most commonplace of occurrences on to a narrative of coming to terms with personal loss. And this whole exercize of drawing parallels between fictional and real life tragedies and pivotal emotional beats becomes too trite all too soon. Maybe she should have known when to put the kibosh on this thing.

    But it's okay. Since I understand wherefrom this monomaniacal urge originates. It's hard to make sense of a father's death especially at an age when you were only just learning how to peel off layers of pretensions obfuscating the unadulterated reality that lay at the core of his personhood. It's not so much a crushing sadness that hits you but an overwhelming disbelief and a sense of

    which becomes so large and potent a force that it pushes out all concomitant emotions of bereavement from your mind leaving a kind of vacuum.

    Before my to psychobabble gets the better of my good sense, let me come clean about my personal reasons for rating this work as high as 3.5 stars. Greater than the sum of my annoyance at Bechdel's rather shabby artwork (at times I couldn't tell the difference between Bruce Bechdel and Alison's brothers) and her tendency to forge correlations between Proust, Joyce, Fitzgerald, Colette, Henry James, Wilde's fictional characters and snippets of memorable moments from her dysfunctional childhood spent in a rural Pennsylvania homestead, was my genuine appreciation for this heartfelt tribute to such a delightfully ambiguous father. Having lost a father at 14, I know how it feels trying to grasp at straws, trying to analyze one seemingly inconsequential incident or subjecting one precious shared moment to intense and concentrated scrutiny from all possible angles. Stray notes tucked in between the last page and the backcover of a magazine recovered years later, journals, hand-written letters, favorite paperbacks, the only bit of literary criticism he published, heaps of carefully organized notes that he prepared for his classes, tapes containing his voice recordings cooing at your tiny baby form and anecdotes recounted by the ones who knew him better and longer than you did become coded roadsigns to some secret location promising complete de-mystification. But you know it's just delusional thinking anyway. You will never know him the way you could have.

    Unlike Bruce Bechdel who grappled with the stark contradiction between his public reality and private urges all his life, my father didn't particularly have any skeletons in his closet. And even if he did I have no way of unraveling that mystery now. But what I do have in common with Bechdel's perspective on her father, is this perplexity, subliminal resentment and an amused incredulity about his life and his deeds. How can he be just a person existing in the past tense now? At least she must have achieved some kind of closure through the creation of this part graphic memoir part literary essay on remembering a loved one. I certainly hope she did.

    My rating and review are thus reprehensibly subjective. Do not expect more from a reviewer who has massive daddy issues and will continue to deal with them till the day she breathes her last. I solemnly confess to being more moved by the parts focusing on her family rather than the Künstlerroman-ish bits about her 'coming out' in college and identifying as a butch woman. But what stopped me from rating this any higher is the painfully overwrought sentence construction Bechdel employs which aside from being cringe-worthy at times creates an unwanted dissonance between the import of an emotional moment and its actual graphical representation and execution.

    I'm sorry Ms Bechdel but if this is your attempt at cracking a joke on the likelihood of your gay self having a conversation with your gay dad about well being gay, it's kind of pathetic.

  • Darth J
    Sep 21, 2015

    Hmmm...

    Well, I wanted to read this for some time, mostly because

    is probably one of the more prominent names that both authors and readers are aware of these days due to her test. Anyway, I wanted to like this more than I did. You see, I'm not really a fan of graphic novels, but it worked here to illustrate her points. However, this whole book felt more like a project of self-analysis than a commercial product. It was extremely personal, yet cold and detached--like Alison's parent

    Hmmm...

    Well, I wanted to read this for some time, mostly because

    is probably one of the more prominent names that both authors and readers are aware of these days due to her test. Anyway, I wanted to like this more than I did. You see, I'm not really a fan of graphic novels, but it worked here to illustrate her points. However, this whole book felt more like a project of self-analysis than a commercial product. It was extremely personal, yet cold and detached--like Alison's parents, which I think is the entire point.

    3 stars overall because there was

    there, but

    just wasn't entertainment.

  • Frankie
    Feb 16, 2017

    So dark & so honest. I loved it.

  • Fabian
    Oct 25, 2016

    Works doubly as a hugely terrific autobiography & a megaengaging graphic novel. In FUN HOME, there is a tremendous longing to merge both of these Arts. The intent is always to make print as compelling as the pictorials they are made to convey. Astute, cheeky & enthralling, it brings together disparate themes like 'Wind in the Willows" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Catcher in the Rye", as well as A Chorus Line & Joyce's Ulysses: pretty much a choose your own literature ty

    Works doubly as a hugely terrific autobiography & a megaengaging graphic novel. In FUN HOME, there is a tremendous longing to merge both of these Arts. The intent is always to make print as compelling as the pictorials they are made to convey. Astute, cheeky & enthralling, it brings together disparate themes like 'Wind in the Willows" and "The Importance of Being Earnest" and "Catcher in the Rye", as well as A Chorus Line & Joyce's Ulysses: pretty much a choose your own literature type adventure that possibly every single reader of this flawless book could relate to.

    Ten dollars to you if the last page/frame of this doesn't make you BOL*.

    PS: We are watching the musical this January! Oh blessed New Year!

    *(Bawl Out Loud)

  • Natalie
    Jan 08, 2017

    This graphic memoir has been on my to read list for what feels like ages, so I felt entirely satisfied when I completed reading it.

    In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

    Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A f

    This graphic memoir has been on my to read list for what feels like ages, so I felt entirely satisfied when I completed reading it.

    In this graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father.

    Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the Fun Home. It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.

    In the end, I was compelled to pick up

    completely on a whim. Though I flew through it, a lot of the literary references went shamefully over my head. And considering that it was such a big focus here, I was left out of the loop a lot, which ended up lowering my enjoyment while reading.

    Also, I was made entirely uncomfortable with her father and his violent tendencies towards his family, his preying on young boys, and his overall behavior towards the naïve.

    I did like how something that Alison Bechdel mentioned in the first half would then get completed in the second half. And I learned quite a lot about funerals, which I was not expecting going into this. Also, Bechdel taking the time to discuss her OCD was crucial and enlightening.

    On that note, here are some other parts I enjoyed:

    When their grandma told the tale of how Bruce Bechdel got stuck in the mud, I was just as compelled as the kids. I wanted to know more.

    I LOVE hearing about dreams.

    Ever since I read the above exchange, it's been on my mind constantly.

    I'm curious to see what her next graphic novel

    entails.

    ,