Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy
Houghton Mifflin, 2006
by Lacy Telles
Fun Home, a graphic novel penned and illustrated by Alison Bechdel, is both comical and tragic. It is an autobiography with elements reminiscent of both Foxtrot and Six Feet Under (I know; how is that possible?). I was impressed with the continuity of such opposing ideas and storylines. Thinking I was in for a “lesbo comes to grips with her sexuality while trying to make light of things and keep her family together” story, I was surprised to learn it was oh so much more than that. Within the first chapter, the reader learns that her dad is dead. By the third chapter, it is apparent that not only does her family believe his death to be a meticulously calculated affair, but that Alison herself wants to claim proprietorship. She needs to believe that she is the cause.
Her incessant refusal to wear dresses, her inability to appreciate her father’s gift for interior decorating, and her butch tendencies eventually culminating in a phone call home to announce the big enlightenment... all of these she associates with his demise. And all of these she adeptly illustrates in both a realistic and hilarious manner. So realistic, in fact, that she often fastidiously reproduces letters and pages from novels, as if she has photocopied them. But, as if a reminder that we are reading a comic, her hastily scribbled notes are there with adjacent arrows, witty quips or explanations of what we are seeing. Her panels jump from the literary to the cartoon-like with ease. I especially enjoyed the pictures of her scantily clad dad balancing precariously around the house as he makes ‘just so’ alterations to the furniture.
The chapters are as much about her father as they are about her own discoveries. It is not as though her father could not accept his lesbian daughter - oh no, that would be too simple, something one would likely read in a tolerance pamphlet. When the writer finally reaches her explosive realization (after a great deal of “research”, including diligently checking out
women-themed library books, reading feminist lit, and, of course, pleasuring herself while doing so) her proclamation is immediately upstaged by other family secrets that surface. Fortunately for the reader, it is easy to relate to the life and times of this dysfunctional family, despite the unique histories and tragedies they experienced. I had instant familiarity with the interaction between the siblings, and though I didn’t have a funeral home to play around in, I felt I could relate to so many of the family moments. The comical illustrations are not in any way incongruous with the sometimes gnarly storyline. With chapter titles such as “Happy Death” and “The Canary-Colored Caravan of Death”, it is apparent that Miss Bechdel is a master of connecting tragedy and comedy. Haven’t we all had that moment where we had to stifle a chuckle at a funeral? Here we are given free reign to laugh out loud while reading about this one woman's heartbreaking life, and I am thankful for this small gift.
Is it crazy for so many out-of-the-ordinary things to have happened to one single girl? So much misfortune? The best part about this novel is that it is real life. Hard to believe or not, it happened, and we are lucky that Alison Bechdel has both the talent and the will to transcribe it all for our enjoyment. Check it out. You may snicker; you may cry; you may belly-laugh until your sides hurt and wipe away a tear. Whatever you do, you will not be disappointed.
Editor's note: Ask for Fun Home at your local comics store, or order it from Amazon.com.
Lacy Telles is a writer currently living in San Francisco. In addition, she is a full time hairstylist, a part time veterinary technician, a reader, a lover, a friend, and also what her pals call, a "hostess with the mostess". Check out her segment, "Lacy Maria en la Cocina" on an awesome podcast devoted to creativity, found at www.nedpr.org.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy © Houghton Mifflin 2006. Review © Lacy Telles 2008
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