Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Growing up

Book: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Author: Alison Bechdel

Published: 2006 (Houghton Mifflin)

Pages: 232

I’m calling this a memoir because the author uses her family story and all their real names, including her own. She doesn’t dress it up as fiction, so it’s not, and she focuses way more on a vaguely stream-of-consciousness fixation on her relationship to her dad and how they handled each other’s sexuality than on a chronological run-through of her childhood.

Bechdel and her father are presented as inverts, as in she always wants to be and acts like a stereotypical boy and her father has spent his entire marriage repressing his female urges. This makes him cold and resentful to his family, and her gradually more confused until she finds a section about lesbianism in her university library and starts reading about that instead of her class-assigned Ulysses.

They each deal with their own homosexuality in opposite ways: he buries his under a pile of shame that occasionally explodes and leads to a car accident that might have been suicide; she pulls hers out of its hiding place and makes it a big part of who she is. She comes out as the more adjusted, better-prepared, world-weary second generation worried about but also smug about not making the same mistakes she saw her father go through. Her experience isn’t any less traumatic, but it makes her stronger instead of destroying her. I think she won.

The fluid artwork’s bold lines kept me entirely in her worlds, in her parents’ knick-knack cluttered house that her dad was always improving, in libraries (more than one and they were all drawn differently, not just Building That Was Not My House No. 2!), in her dorm room and the funeral parlor.

OH YEAH. Her dad also inherited a funeral parlor from his parents. It wasn’t a full-time business in their small town, but the whole family worked when the need came along. I wish she would’ve integrated this into more of her general telling, but she left it in one smallish section. By then end of the book I wanted to know more about the funeral home and less about what her father’s death might mean.

That might make me a terrible human being. But your Constant Reader never lets life get in the way of good content.   

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