Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (2007)

Synopsis

A year after her father died, when she was twenty years old, Alison Bechdel was looking through some old family photographs and found one of a young man in his underwear. She recognized him as a student of her father’s and a family babysitter. She also came across a photo of her father as a young man, wearing a woman’s bathing suit. There were also snapshots of her mother over the years, in which her expression transformed vividly from hopefulness to resignation to bitterness. Alison found her own childhood pictures, of a girl who looked like a boy. She knew that these snapshots conveyed much more information than she suspected, and there was a deeper story begging to be told, about a daughter who inadvertently “outs” her gay father, who meets a tragic end. But the painful circumstances that make her story so compelling also rendered her incapable of telling it for a long time. Alison was inhibited not just by the shock of her father’s death, but by the impact of his life — his domination and deception, and the alternately encouraging and crushing influence that he had on her creativity. In her early twenties she attempted, in prose, to tell her part of the tale, but it eluded her. Instead, she turned her creative efforts to an entirely different project: drawing a comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For. Years have passed, and Alison is now a comic artist with a cult following. Her strip is syndicated in fifty newspapers and she has a quarter of a million books in print. And she is finally ready to tell her own story. Through twenty years of social change, Alison’s accomplished drawing skills, and her wizened emotional perspective comes Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.

From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Notes on This Title

The book depicts an adult man in relationships with teenage boys, although not explicitly.

There is a sequel to this title, Are You My Mother?, which focuses on Bechdel’s mother.

Awards

2006 National Book Critics Circle Award Autobiography/Memoir - Finalist
2007 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work
2007 Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album - Nominee
2007 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book
2007 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Memoir and Biography
2007 Stonewall Book Award for Non-Fiction

Reviews

Starred Review: “This autobiography by the author of the long-running strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, deals with her childhood with a closeted gay father, who was an English teacher and proprietor of the local funeral parlor (the former allowed him access to teen boys). Fun Home refers both to the funeral parlor, where he put makeup on the corpses and arranged the flowers, and the family’s meticulously restored gothic revival house, filled with gilt and lace, where he liked to imagine himself a 19th-century aristocrat. The art has greater depth and sophistication than Dykes; Bechdel’s talent for intimacy and banter gains gravitas when used to describe a family in which a man’s secrets make his wife a tired husk and overshadow his daughter’s burgeoning womanhood and homosexuality. His court trial over his dealings with a young boy pushes aside the importance of her early teen years. Her coming out is pushed aside by his death, probably a suicide. The recursively told story, which revisits the sites of tragic desperation again and again, hits notes that resemble Jeanette Winterson at her best. Bechdel presents her childhood as a ‘still life with children’ that her father created, and meditates on how prolonged untruth can become its own reality. She’s made a story that’s quiet, dignified and not easy to put down.” (Source: Publishers Weekly, vol 253, issue 9, p40)

“Bechdel’s masterwork is her two-decade award-winning strip, Dykes To Watch Out For, in 10 collected volumes. In that poignant yet hilarious story, Bechdel’s inventive characters cope with career and health crises, lesbian psychodrama, and anti-Bush politics. With Fun Home, the artist draws her own story, also poignant, funny, and certainly real-life absurd. Mother is an actress turned housewife, while father teaches high school English and runs a funeral home (the “fun home,” the children call it mockingly) on the side. Young Alison is pressed into helping with funerals and renovations on their gothic house, while pretending, along with parents and brothers, that they are a normal family. Yet why did her parents hate each other? Why was father so histrionic and mother so distant? As she untangles these mysteries, Bechdel skillfully pivots the tale in repeat takes around her father’s perhaps-suicide. Gradually the secret is revealed, partly in metaphors of literature that brought daughter and father–now revealed as closeted gay–together at last before his death. With mature themes plus some nudity and sex; for older teens and adults.” (Source: Library Journal, Vol.131(12), p.58)

“Graphic in both content and style, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is an astonishing advertisement for this emerging literary form.

The creator of the lesbian comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel writes about and illustrates her childhood in rural Pennsylvania. Her erudite parents, both of them teachers, were locked in a miserable marriage. Her father was gay, drawn to male students, and worked part time as an undertaker. Bechdel details the emergence of her own sexuality, the love of books that bound her and her tormented father, her sacrificing mother, and her father’s possible suicide. (He may have thrown himself in front of a truck.) Yet despite the dysfunction, Bechdel evokes deep compassion in the reader for all the members of her family with her spare words and gray-green drawings.” (Source: USA Today)

Interviews

The Guardian: “Fun Home creator Alison Bechdel on turning a tragic childhood into a hit musical”

The Nib: “Alison Bechdel: The Fun Home author talks to Nicole Georges about how writing a memoir changed her family and herself”

NPR: “Lesbian Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Countered Dad’s Secrecy By Being Out And Open”

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