Books

Book 411: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic – Alison Bechdel

Bechdel, Alison - Fun HomeI first read Fun Home in undergrad after my friend Mia gave me a copy not long after it came out in paperback. (I’m pretty sure it was paperback and I’m pretty sure it was Mia. I wasn’t so great at tracking who, when or where books came from back then…oh the olden days :-D)

Either way, I remember thoroughly loving it that first time I read it. I even went out of my way to read Camus’ A Happy Death after I finished even though I have very little recollection of it now other than these quotes I saved on a proto-blog I had that I’m pretty sure it was called East Coast Traditional Meets West Coast Casual or something like that (I stole it from a furniture magazine.)

Fun Home - Alison Bechdel - SignedThe book then made a resurgence in 2011 for me when I had the opportunity to hear Alison Bechdel speak and get my copy autographed at the third Boston Book Festival. She even drew herself on the title page (bottom left of the photo, click to enlarge it).

Then once again Fun Home made a resurgence in 2015 when I purchased a copy of her follow-up work, Are You My Mother?, and it won a couple of Tony’s for its stage adaptation. I’ve embedded “Keys” from the Tony’s at the end of this post before the long book list. I’m hoping we’ll get to see it if we go to NYC in February. (Oh yeah, and some idiots at DOOK decided to raise a fuss because you know broadening their perspectives hurts.)

And I’ve finally gotten around to reading it again. In 2016 our book group decided to do memoirs and I thought why not! Most of the group haven’t read a graphic novel and I thought it would be a bit different! It was a toss-up between this and Persepolis, but with it being in the news for the Tony’s I went with it. We discuss it two weekends from now, so until then here are my thoughts revisiting it 7ish years later.

Short story: Fun Home stands the test of time. It’s a glimpse at Alison Bechdel’s life through her relationship with her dad. Its shortcomings, its highlights and its very odd duality between her own experience becoming a lesbian and her dad’s experience of repressing his indeterminate sexuality. It’s as much autobiography and memoir as it is biography of her father.

One of the things I remember noticing both times I read the work were how many novels, books and plays she refers to throughout. I didn’t realize how many she did until I decided halfway through this read to actually make a list. The result: 71 and they’re ALL listed at the end of this post. I’ve read about 12 of them!

I also really identified with her own search for identity as a college student coming to terms with her sexuality. The way she went about it was eerily identical to the way I came to terms with my public identity in undergrad. I knew before, but doing the research, reading the books and finding the language and then going to a meeting (huge step) and then becoming involved in conferences and publications. It was neat to re-read it again further removed from my journey.

The other thing that really stood out to me in this and so far in  Fun Home (and in Are You My Mother?) is the black line art with the single color ink wash (thanks Wikipedia for explaining this to me). In Fun Home it’s a gray-green and in Are You My Mother? it’s a reddish/pink color. It provides a great juxtaposition and really focused me on what was or wasn’t happening in each panel and on each page.

There’s not much else to say, overall I still think it’s a wonderful read. I can appreciate the familial conflicts even more now that I’m older and have started to see things within my family that were “hidden”/left unsaid while my sister and I were children. I can’t wait to see what my friends think about it, especially one scene about a hot dog that I really want to know if they think it’s a double entendre too!?

Recommendation: Definitely read this one. It doesn’t take long to read and the interwoven circular narrative is really interesting and highlights what it’s like to think about something. I really should check out her iconic Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip, I’ve meant to for years.

Opening Line: “Like many fathers, mine could occasionally be prevailed on for a spot of ‘airplane.'”

Closing Line: “But in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

Additional Quotes from Fun Home
“I’d been upstaged, demoted from protagonists in my own drama to comic relief in my parents’ tragedy.” (58)

“On its way from Christopher Street to the Castro, it passed only four Mike’s from our house–albeit on the other side of bald eagle mountain.” (127)

“And indeed, if our family was a sort of artists’ colony, could it not be even more accurately described as a mildly autistic colony? Our selves were all we had.” (139)

Books Listed or Drawn in Fun Home (An asterisks [*] denotes a book I read before I started blogging; page number in parenthesis)

  1. Sappho Was A Right-On Woman – Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love (79)
  2. Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives – Casey Adair and Nancy Adair (75)
  3. The American Dream – Edward Albee (131)
  4. Little Women – Louisa May Alcott (172)
  5. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (199)
  6. Women in the Shadows – Ann Bannon (107)
  7. Cecil Beaton’s Diaries – Cecil Beaton (205)
  8. Our Bodies, Ourselves: A Book by and for Women – Boston Women’s Health Book Collective (ed.) (76)
  9. Beginning with O – Olga Broumas (80)
  10. Rubyfruit Jungle – Rita Mae Brown (205)
  11. A Happy Death – Albert Camus (27)*
  12. The Myth of Sisyphus – Albert Camus (47)
  13. The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form – Kenneth Clark (15)
  14. Earthly Paradise – Colette and Robert Phelps (ed.) (205)
  15. James and the Giant Peach – Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake (Ill.) (81)*
  16. Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism – Mary Daly and Emily Culpepper (Ill.) (80)
  17. The Hardy Boys: The Mystery of Cabin Island – Franklin Dixon (141)
  18. The Waterfall – Margaret Drabble (185)
  19. The Worm Ouroboros – E. R. Eddision
  20. As I Lay Dying – William Faulkner (200)
  21. The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald (61)*
  22. Johny Tremain – Esther Forbes (142)
  23. Maurice – E. M. Forster (76)
  24. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame and Robert Ingpen (Ill.) (130)*
  25. The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass (32)
  26. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall (75)
  27. You Can’t Take It With You – Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman (189)
  28. The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemingway (61)
  29. Washington Square – Henry James (66)
  30. The Gay Report – Karla Jay(76)
  31. Out of the Closets: Voices of Gay Liberation – Karla Jay (76)
  32. Lesbian Nation – Jill Johnston (207)
  33. Dubliners – James Joyce (202)
  34. A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man – James Joyce (201)
  35. Ulysses – James Joyce (201)
  36. A Chorus Line – James Kirkwood, Michael Bennett, Nicholas Dante and Edward Kleban (191)
  37. La Bâtarde – Violette Leduc and Derek Coltman (trans.) (76)
  38. No Sex Please – We’re British – Anthony Marriott and Alistair Foot (162)
  39. Lesbian/Woman – Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (75)
  40. Homosexuality in Perspective – William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson (75)
  41. Zelda: A Biography – Nancy Milford (84)
  42. Flying – Kate Millett (217)
  43. The World of Pooh – A.A. Milne (80)
  44. The Far Side of Paradise: A Biography of F. Scott Fitzgerald – Arthur Mizener (62)
  45. Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin (76)
  46. Morning’s at Seven – Paul Osborn (132)
  47. The Guermantes Way – Marcel Proust and Mark Treharne (Tr.) (119)
  48. In Search of Lost Time/Remembrance of Things Past – Marcel Proust and D.J. Enright (Tr.) (92)
  49. Dream of a Common Language – Adrienne Rich (80)
  50. Desert of the Heart – Jane Rule (205)
  51. The Stones of Venice – John Ruskin (19)
  52. Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger (198)*
  53.  Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing – May Sarton (207)
  54. The Merry Wives of Windsor – William Shakespeare (202)
  55. The Taming of the Shrew – William Shakespeare (69)
  56. And the Band Played On – Randy Shilts (195)
  57. Baby and Child Care – Benjamin Spock, M.D. (138)
  58. “Sunday Morning” from (I’m guessing) Harmonium – Wallace Stevens (82)
  59. A Child’s Garden Verses – Robert Louis Stevenson (160)
  60. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson (160)
  61. The Fellowship of the Ring – J.R.R. Tolkien (198)
  62. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy (3)
  63. The Homosexual Matrix – C. A. Tripp (205
  64.  Our Right To Love: A Lesbian Resource Book – Ginny Vida (75)
  65. The Front Runner – Patricia Nell Warren (76)
  66. An Ideal Husband – Oscar Wilde (166)
  67. The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde (154)
  68. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde (170)
  69. Danny Dunn, Time Traveler – Jay Williams and Raymond Abrashkin (169)
  70. The Letters of Virginia Woolf – Virginia Woolf and Nigel Nicolson (ed.) (209)
  71. Orlando – Virginia Woolf (205)*
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