Friday, February 16, 2007

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home

Last weekend I finished Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I’ve wanted to write about it ever since I finished it, but I’ve been ruminating about exactly what to say. I love Alison Bechdel. I grew up with Dykes to Watch Out For. I felt that the comic strip captured much of my life in the 1990s. So I was excited to read Fun Home for that reason. I wanted to reconnect with Alison Bechdel because I feel that she and I have a shared history and connection. Of course, every lesbian who has read the strip probably believe that. I was also excited to read Fun Home because I haven’t read a graphic novel. I have to confess though while it was my first graphic novel, I really primarily read the words. That was one of the striking experiences about it, for me, being a person primarily oriented to text, that is what I gravitated to in the book. Part of that, too, was probably because I was gripped by the narrative.
Fun Home is primarily an autobiography of Alison Bechdel. Her father died when she was twenty years old, just a few weeks after she came out to her family. He died, killed by a truck either in an accident or in a suicide as Bechdel explores in the book. The narrative is a fascinating interweaving of literary allusions, family history, and female adolescence. It was riveting. I suppose the pictures were good, too, but I am primarily oriented to text. The most striking thing about this book is Bechdel’s sorting through of sexual orientation across generations, but I will come back to that. The second most striking thing about the book is the way that Bechdel integrates her childhood journal and explores her own periods of obsessive compulsive behavior and other controlling behaviors of adolescence. These disclosures and explorations were fascinating and close to home. The relief of Bechdel’s escape to college also resonated for me particularly.
Then there is the character of her father, carefully restoring the house, and being caught for pedophilia. I think it is the contrast of those two things that is most stark. At the beginning of the book, the father is this particular and peculiar man restoring Victorian houses, much like many friends of mine, gay male friends of mine. Then, as Bechdel gets older she develops a greater understanding of her father and his closeted life. She comes out just before his life ends. In some ways a tribute; in other ways a profound statement of the generational differences that we experience in the gay community. What made it possible for some men the ages of our fathers to come out and live a life outside of heterosexuality while for others they married and lived a life in the closet with the joys and pains of the heterosexual families that they built. These are hard questions. Bechdel doesn’t answer them, but raises them in this incredible book. The answers may be left for someone else to write.

No comments: