Saturday, March 25, 2006

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Bechdel is known for her long-running comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” but, with any luck, will reach a broader audience with this graphic novel memoir. Bechdel’s memoir focuses on her relationship with her father, his secret life and her coming-of-age as a lesbian. Bechdel grew up in Pennsylvania in a Victorian home her father meticulously restored and reigned over. Alison, her two brothers, and Mother all lived in the house as though they were part of an installation, simply part of Mr. Bechdel’s master plan or artifice. The Bechdel family also ran a funeral home where Alison’s father worked part-time while also working as a high school English teacher. Bechdel tells her story with a rich layering of time, discovery and literary allusions that befit the passion her father shared with her, the power of the written word. Her father’s death when she is 20 ruptures her world, and leaves her to question the complex figure that he cut in her life. Before his death, just when she comes out to her parents, Alison learns that her father had been having affairs with other men and boys throughout her parents’ marriage. This revelation has long-ranging effects and reverberations, but in all that Bechdel learns about her father, the more questions spring to life for her and the reader. The artful execution, the well-detailed graphics, the emotional complexity, and the literary layers all converged just stunningly. This has got to be one of my favorites, right up there with Blankets and Persepolis.

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