Fun Home

Bechdel, Alison. (2006). Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Young Alison stands in front of a mirror with her father and mother as they get ready for a wedding. Text reads “Not only were we inverts, we were inversions of each other. While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him… he was attempting to express something feminine through me. Speech bubbles read (Alison: Why can’t I wear my sneakers?) (Father: It’s a wedding! I wish we had some sort of straw hat for you.) (Mother: You’re going to upstage the bride in that suit.). An arrow pointing to Alison’s dress reads “Least girly dress in the store. An arrow pointing to father’s suit reads “Velvet!”

A scene from childhood from page 98

In this stunning graphic novel memoir, Alison Bechdel (of Dykes to Watch Out For fame) recounts memories of her relationship with her father, from early childhood to his death (possible suicide) when she was in college. To say that her family life was complicated would be an understatement; her parents were alternately narcissistic and introverted, as they both shouldered the burdens of artistic and intellectual brilliance while tending to the everyday annoyances of childrearing and unsatisfying mortuary work. Both parents had deeply private lives and lofty ambitions and were rather unhappy.

In her father’s case, his secret was that he was gay and closeted, and dealt with this by pushing unpleasant expectations on young Alison to be more feminine, which she has interpreted as a coping mechanism for his own failed masculinity. Her tomboyish behavior and presentation resulted unsurprisingly in her realizing she was a lesbian in college, an announcement that was met with disappointment from her mother and a sort of strange encouragement from her father. Her coming out was overshadowed by her mother’s disclosure that her father had affairs with men and boys—some of whom she knew as babysitters and gardeners in her childhood.

This beautifully illustrated book (complex ink drawings with lovely gray-green wash) offers insight into family relationships, sexuality, gender policing, and how secrets and disclosures inform relationships and memories. As described on the jacket, Alison Bechdel is “a careful archivist of her own life,” and this journalistic masterpiece is both profoundly individual and an addition to the larger body of coming-out narratives and family psychology. Furthermore, literary allusions abound, stemming from the family’s habit of using literature to maintain emotional distance while nurturing intellectual growth and shared understandings.

Fun Home won the 2007 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Comic Book, the Stonewall Book Award for nonfiction, the Lambda Literary Award in the Lesbian Memoir and Biography category, and the Eisner Award in the Best Reality-Based Work category.

About Charlie McNabb

Archivist, Folklorist, and Legend Tripper
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