A book to ‘watch out for’

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is the latest accomplishment of Alison Bechdel, the author and illustrator of the highly popular comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For”. 

Fun Home is unique in that it is a graphic novel – meaning that the entire story is like a comic strip – complete with illustrations.  I must admit when I heard of this book, I was slightly surprised to hear she had written her memoir in this format.  I had convinced myself that there is no way that this could be done without being frivolous and ridiculous.  Boy was I wrong.

Bechdel began keeping a journal at the suggestion of her father when she was a young girl.  

It was these journals which allowed her to recall, with fairly vivid accuracy, her childhood. Her father was a historic preservationist and English schoolteacher who moved back to his hometown after a stint in the army to run the family funeral home (or Fun Home as Bechdel and her siblings call it) business after his father’s death. He single handedly restored a Gothic revival home and decorated it with lace and period furniture and art.  As you might have guessed from the above description, he was a closeted homosexual as well. Bechdel successfully describes a moody and sometimes distant and violent father obsessed with perfection. She even goes so far as to describe his desire to create “still-life with children”.  Even with all the negatives, Bechdel always seems to have a bond with her father – a bond she later links to their homosexuality.

Fun Home tells a story of a unique childhood, a lesbian growing into her skin and in a weird twisted way – family love.  You feel the harsh reality of growing up and learning that your parents are people too and have problems (sometimes severe) and that they always don’t get through them. You feel her pain in learning of her father’s indiscretions and how they hurt her mother.  And in her father’s mysterious death, you feel the frustration with the small town mentality to ignore all that is not “normal”.

This is one of the most unique novels I’ve read in a long time. The graphic format is engaging, darkly amusing, not at all distracting, and takes less than a couple of hours to read. I was completely engrossed and read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. Bechdel’s complete openness and candor leave you amazed at an author and her craft.  I highly recommend this book.

Fun Home is available at your local bookstores, online and at the public library.  Alison Bechdel is a Lambda Award Winning author and her comic is listed by Utne magazine as “one of the greatest hits of the twentieth century.”

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
by  Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin Company, 240 pp., $19.95