This book takes its place alongside the unnerving, memorable, darkly funny family memoirs of Augusten Burroughs and Mary Karr. It's a father-daughter tale perfectly suited to the graphic memoir form. Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian house, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned 'fun home,' as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic, and redemptive.--From publisher description.
Bechdel's father views his inner feelings through the prism of his favourite writers (James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald) and clearly has his own inner demons. Bechdel's coming out to her family is upstaged by her mother's announcement that her father had had several sexual relationships with young men and boys in their home town, which makes events in her earlier life rather clearer to understand. But this is not a vindictive memoir, rather an attempt to understand her father and in particular why he remained in his small home town leading a life to which he seemed so patently unsuited. So much so that when he was killed in a traffic accident at the age of 44 the assumption of his family was that it was suicide, although no note had been left.
Definitely a rewarding read especially for anyone interested in family relationships
Review: The "look at my terrible childhood" flavor of memoir is my least favorite flavor, and is responsible for me thinking I didn't like memoirs in general until relatively recently. I'll happily grant Fun Home an exception, however, even though it technically does fall into that category. There are several reasons that it sets itself apart from the rest of its peers, but I think the primary reason is that Bechdel is not using her the trauma of childhood for laughs (although there are some humorous touches throughout) or for dramatic potential (although there's certainly plenty of that as well). Instead, there's a very palpable sense that she's writing this memoir because she's really trying to figure out her relationship with her father, and what it meant, and that putting her memories down on paper is the best way she can hope to make sense of it all. The narrative flow does jump backwards and forwards through time, repeating some parts of the story from different angles as they come to bear on different topics, giving it a feeling of "thinking out loud," but even so, it doesn't come across as feeling scattered or unpolished.
It also helps that her analysis, both of her father and of herself, is extremely penetrating, with enough emotion to make it powerful but enough age and maturity to make it thoughtful. Bechdel's prose is similarly both elevated and immediate, verbose and vocabulary-ridden, but still clear and forceful. The book is rife with literary allusions and direct textual comparisons, some of which I got, some of which surely went over my head, but which certainly set the intellectual tone of the book. Bechdel's art is also great, and I really liked the juxtaposition of her own detailed drawings with the drawn reproduction of photographs, printed text, and her own diary entries.
Overall, this was a very thoughtful and penetrating book. I'm sure that there are layers of meaning about homosexuality and the process of coming out that I, as a straight person, didn't latch on to. But I think there's also a message that's applicable to everyone, about the secrets that our parents keep, and about who they really are, and how we, as children of our parents, can manifest those secrets without ever truly understanding them. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: Definitely recommended, particularly for people who like memoirs, but maybe even for people that think they don't.
Bechdel ability to be true to her sexuality is set side by side with his inability to do so, and yet, the story is not a simplistic tale of ‘look how far we’ve come’ by any means. Like all great writing, there is something specific here, but also, something which speaks universal truths. She’s connected to her father in her love of literature and ‘being different’ than the cultural norm, and yet, disconnected, as he was aloof and often a glowering presence in their home. All relationships are complicated, no one is perfect, and we lead our separate lives, even if we’re under the same roof. Sometimes it’s easier for us to express ourselves to others, strangers even, as opposed to family members who are supposed to be closest to us.
The book draws extensive references to Camus, Proust, Joyce, and Fitzgerald, yet also American culture of the 70s, and all of it in a light way, with poetic, funny touches. It’s never cloying or sentimental, and yet I found it quite poignant, especially in the scenes that end each chapter. Bechdel is a master in telling this story, touching upon happiness and sadness, truth and conjecture, and love and accepting the flaws of those around us all at the same time. Powerful stuff.
I loved the blatant honesty of Bechdel's narration. She doesn't hide her father's faults, nor her own. She lays everything down on the table and lets the reader maker his or her own decision. None of the characters are perfect. They're all human. The family is dysfunctional, but they all love and support each other.
My favorite moment of the entire book is when Alison runs across a picture of her father in his college years, wearing a women's swimsuit. She says he doesn't look awkward or silly, like one wearing it as a prank would, but rather he looks elegant. You can just feel the narrator finally seeing the truth about her father and, in the picture, he looks happy and finally at peace with himself. It's a beautiful moment that I kept finding myself drawn back to.
I recommend this book. It's a quick read, but I hope it honestly touches your heart like it did mine.
Alison and her two brothers grew up in a Gothic revival home that had been meticulously restored by her father. Alison describes her father as a master of making things look like something they weren't; this talent extends beyond the merely decorative, as Bruce Bechdel created the facade of a perfect family to hide his closeted sexuality. As Alison discovers her own homosexuality, she comes to see how her father's rigid standards have shaped who she is.
This book is not an easy read, as it is spiral in nature -- the narrative circles around Bechdel and her father -- and Bechdel's literary references are challenging, to say the least. It is however, beautifully heartbreaking. The art, clean and economical, accented with aqua tones, serves the story perfectly. Bechdel's frankness is admirable, if somewhat uncomfortable, and it is her willingness to be open that would keep this book out of teen collections.
It was also a very dark narrative, though it didn't seem totally depressing, and it was quite funny.
I also liked the art for the most part, which surprised me, because it was all blue (there's probably an arty word for it, but I'm gonna stick with blue). But, even as it was all blue all the characters were very, very expressive as well.
A solid 4 star Graphic Novel.
Alison tells her childhood/coming out memoir through a lens of her father's suspected suicide when she was twenty. Hindsight lends a lot of depth to her complicated relationship with him; they were both gay and both "knew" about one another but could hardly talk about it within the confines of their appearance as a normal Catholic suburban family. Still, if they never got the hang of a father-daughter relationship properly, they did become intellectual partners over a shared hobby of reading. Fun Home is dense with intertextuality, references to literature through which Alison and her father connected.
All in all, the memoir ends up bittersweet (or, as the subtitle suggests, a "tragicomic"). Alison never reduces her relationship with her father to anything saccharine or perfectly understood, but leaves it both complicated and cut short by his suicide.
One way she does this is to cast her family in the roles of literary characters, writers, and actors. Through the course of this book she draws parallels between herself/her family and the following: F Scott Fitzgerald, Oscar Wilde, Ulysses/The Odyssey, Icarus/Daedelus, Richard Nixon, The Adams Family, Jimmy Stewart & Family in It's A Wonderful Life, Camus, Catcher in the Rye, Colette, Proust, Robert Redford, some Henry James novel etc. etc. By the end you feel like she's probably way too smart for her own good. All this analogizing her life can't be good for her, this obsessive analysis borders on neurosis, and she knows it too: one of her many theories is that it is easier to live through fiction, or to access life through illusion/allusion than directly.
Anyway, the weaving of these threads together is done with such skill that it makes for a good read. And perhaps she did come away with it, after all of that, with some kind of insight. It definitely feels like insight by the end, but I'm not sure if it is, or if all it boils down to is just her trying to convince herself of what she wants to believe.
I was struck by the fact that I didn't like the father at all. And I felt like there weren't that many characters to really cling to in this book, except for the father and the narrator. But other than the father, the other characters fall back into bit parts, almost invisibly. And I wasn't sure if I was supposed to feel sympathy for the father, which is what seemed to be happening towards the end. I felt sympathy maybe for his situation, but I really didn't like him as a person (well, that sounds kinda weird... how about "as a person as portrayed in this book").
One last note: I wasn't really impressed by the art when I began, but it grew on me (mainly because of the story). She's definitely a much better thinker/writer than an artist. And the way she weaves the words with the pictures works really well sometimes without seeming too clever or innovative (which usually gets on my nerves).
The literary references in this book added an immense richness to the tales. Father and daughter are both readers using book characters to mirror thoughts, feelings, and characteristics. F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Colette, Camus, and Marcel Proust were all featured in the book, as well as Oscar Wilde, whose indecent trial coincided with her mom’s theatrical role in “The Importance of Being Ernest”.
Not surprising, this book is very adult oriented with themes of sexual orientation, suicide, emotional abuse, and dysfunctional family life – but perfectly balanced with humor. The revelation of her father’s closeted homosexuality explained a lot of the latent angst in his behavior during their childhood. He was the antagonist of the story, and the book was dedicated to the protagonists – her Mom and her two brothers. Interestingly, the book became the author’s therapy and in her later interviews, she expressed an appreciation for the early generations of gays who led the path to her ability to smoothly come out of the closet even though her father never did. I will add this book was turned into a screen play which became the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical of the Year, with a much more upbeat tone than the book. I hope the father will RIP knowing his daughter has expressed some forgiveness by having a more positive view of her past in this musical.
While I typically have no issues with books that jump back and forth in time, I ding this book somewhat for repeating images/aspects previously shared to align with a chapter’s theme. A bit more editing is warranted, especially the last chapter. Still, I decided it deserves the 5 star rating. It truly is a homerun.
P.S. “Fun Home” = Funeral Home, the father’s family business
On dysfunctional family dynamics:
“Sometimes, when thing were going well, I think my father actually enjoyed having a family. Or at least, the air of authenticity we lent to his exhibit. A sort of still life with children…… I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture…… He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not. That is to say, impeccable.”
“It could be argued that death is inherently absurd, and that grinning is not necessarily an inappropriate response. I mean absurd in the sense of ridiculous, unreasonable. One second a person is there, the next they’re not.”
Credited to Camus – “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “The subject of this essay is precisely this relationship between the absurd and suicide, the exact degree to which suicide is a solution to the absurd.”
“Proust refers to his explicitly homosexual characters as ‘inverts.’ I’ve always been fond of this antiquated clinical term. It’s imprecise and insufficient, defining the homosexual as a person whose gender expression is at odds with his or her sex. But in the admittedly limited sample comprising my father and me, perhaps it is sufficient. Not only were we inverts. We were inversions of one another.”
Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of her life growing up. Fun home is what she and her brothers called the family-owned funeral home her dad ran. This was the first adult graphic novel I’ve read. (And by adult, I mean for grown-ups, NOT porn.) I was really surprised how drawn into it I was. I didn’t realize that characters could be so defined in the graphic format. I really felt for Alison, having to grow up with such distant, detached parents. Her pain and confusion over her father’s death jumps off the page.
The only way that Alison and her father relate to one another is through a mutual love of books and reading. Fun Home is peppered with literary references and comparisons that went completely over my head. Once again I’m pulling the “I was an accounting major so I didn’t read any classics in college card”. If you have, you may enjoy the references and Alison’s book will have even more meaning for you. However, I still liked this book a lot anyway.
There were a few nude drawings in this book, when Alison figures out she’s a lesbian and starts having relationships with women. However, Alison is a talented illustrator and they looked like works of art in my opinion. If the scenes had been described using words, they would have been much more graphic. I am applying Justice Potter Stewart’s “I know it when I see it” test of obscenity and this ain’t it.
As far as the homosexual themes in the book goes, yes this is a memoir written by a lesbian about her relationship with her gay dad. It’s a gay book. But isn’t one of the great things about reading learning about people who are different than you? Reading helps one develop a deep sense of empathy. Maybe you might even learn that people you once thought were evil are not. Maybe that’s a scary thought for some people and they would rather live in their insulated bubbles. I’m glad I’m not one of those people. However, I should thank the students at Duke for alerting me to this book’s existence.
Put Fun Home on your list of challenged books that must be read!
This is an autobiographical novel by Bechdel and it was incredibly engaging and well done. Alison lives with her interior decorating obsessed father. Her father is also manic-depressive and a closet gay man. As you can imagine the marriage between Alison’s father and mother is very strained. To add to the macabre humor of it all Alison’s father owns and runs a funeral home which they call the “Fun Home”.
The book bounces between a number of times in Alison’s life. From when she was a child to an adult and back to a child. It is mainly told as a reflection of her growing up with her father after she hears about his death. She thinks about the many things she saw him doing as a child that she didn’t really understand until she got older.
Woven through all of this story is Alison’s own realization that she is a lesbian and what that confession did (or didn’t do) to her family. You get to watch as Alison’s dad struggles to form her into the perfect girl that he could never be (and Alison never wanted to be) and as Alison’s dad sneaks off for secret liaisons with other men.
The story takes place in a rural and very non-tolerant town in Pennsylvania mainly in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Bits and pieces of the history of era are woven throughout the story.
Alison’s father also had a deep love for literature, which Alison herself develops as she gets older. This provides a bridge between Alison and her father, we also get to read a lot of literature references throughout the story that have meaning to our characters’ lives.
This is a book that is easy to read and at first seems a bit meandering, but it is also incredibly thought-provoking. It does an excellent job of making you look on and reflect on your own life. I especially enjoyed how the characters’ feelings for each other ebb and flow and they go from understanding and relating to each other to hating each other. The whole thing just captures family dynamics very well (if a bit more dramatically than most families).
The drawing throughout is very well done. It’s a fairly simple style interspersed with some very detailed lifelike drawings. I pretty much read the whole book in one sitting and loved the way it ended.
This is one of those very complex and emotional novels that will make you laugh, cry, wonder and consider how society influences relationships. It’s very masterfully done and was impossible to put down.
Overall a very masterfully done graphic novel autobiography. Really I have never read anything like this before. I highly recommend it. I would recommend for older teen or adult only, there are some graphic sex scenes and discussion about sex. I bet this is one of those books they are recommending for GLBT classes in college...there is just so much in here to discuss and think about.
But its content got right to me. This is the story of a woman recounting her girlhood in a family where no one ever quite emotionally connected, so much so that she did not know her father was gay until it was too late for that information to ever influence her relationship with him. They're a strange unusual family, and it's one of those books where you can't help thinking of your family the whole time through, and drawing connections, and feeling something as a result. (This may indicate more about me than the book.) Bechdel reminds me of Jeanette Winterson, though not entirely for the most obvious reason.
Likable all the way through, painful when it needs to be, occasionally funny, and the only missed note is really the ending, because it is just obviously false, but I guess that's memoir for you.
Her allusions are thought provoking, and the way she ties the Icarus/Daedalus story to her life and to Joyce's Ulysses was insightful and emotional. I noticed the images in this book more than most other graphic novels, because I think they did more work than usual.
This is a five star book.
Most impressive to me is the way Bechdel weaves literature and mythology into her book: comparing her father to F. Scott Fitzgerald, and telling her story of sexual discovery through literature. For some people (probably a fair percentage of LibraryThingers) life and literature are deeply intertwined: this, contrary to much of what we've been told, is cause for celebration, not shame--and this is something Bechdel understands deeply.