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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomicby Alison Bechdel
Fun Home, in concert with Craig Thompson's Blankets, was one of the works that proved to my doubting eyes that graphic novels could reach heights every bit as poetic, moving, and magical as the finest prose. Darkly funny but wholly sincere, the story of a young woman coming to terms both with herself and her father's lifetime of secrets (all the while growing up in a funeral home!) is hands down one of my favorite books, and the perfect gateway into a whole new genre.
Fun Home is a memoir told in the form of a graphic novel, a collage of comic artist Alison Bechdel's impressions of her life — from her childhood spent growing up in a funeral home to her college years discovering women and burying her closeted father. Bechdel layers her methodical drawings with precise, searching prose, allowing her readers to live beside her as she tries to make sense of herself in light of her father's secrets and possible suicide.
Bechdel first became well-known as a cartoonist for her long-running series Dykes to Watch Out For (1983-2008). When Fun Home was published in 2006, it was clear her work had taken a much different direction. She says that Fun Home is about how she learned to be an artist from her father. "Fun Home" was what she and her brothers called the funeral home that her father ran part-time. Bechdel narrates her childhood through diary entries that catapult the reader back in time, clever juxtapositions of literary classics, and artwork with a slightly gothic feel. The subtitle is "A Family Tragicomic," and Fun Home is exactly that, but so much more: the story of Bechdel's coming out, her relationship with her father, her father's death, and his own sexuality.
Synopses & Reviews
This breakout book by Alison Bechdel takes its place alongside the unnerving, memorable, darkly funny family memoirs of Augusten Burroughs and Mary Karr. It's a father-daughter tale pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings and — like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis — a story exhilaratingly suited to the graphic memoir form.
Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian house, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift...graphic...and redemptive.
"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." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Bechdel's memoir offers a graphic narrative of uncommon richness, depth, literary resonance and psychological complexity....The results are painfully honest, occasionally funny and penetratingly insightful." Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"If David Sedaris could draw, and if Bleak House had been a little funnier, you'd have Alison Bechdel's Fun Home." Amy Bloom, author of A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
"Alison Bechdel — she's one of the best, one to watch out for." Harvey Pekar, author of American Splendor
"Stupendous. Alison Bechdel's mesmerizing feat of familial resurrection is a rare, prime example of why graphic novels have taken over the conversation about American literature. The details — visual and verbal, emotional and elusive — are devastatingly captured by an artist in total control of her craft." Chip Kidd, author of The Cheese Monkeys
"Brave and forthright and insightful — exactly what Alison Bechdel does best." Dorothy Allison, author of Bastard Out of Carolina
"Bechdel's long-running Dykes to Watch Out For is arguably the best comic strip going, and Fun Home is one of the very best graphic novels ever." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[S]plendid....More than the witty art, more than the mordant prose, it is this openness that distinguishes Bechdel's generous and intelligent work....
"[A] revelation: Here is a panel-and-drawings book that feels like a true literary achievement, something with characters who baffle and disappoint and break hearts the way people do in life and in the best of prose." Minneapolis Star Tribune
"[R]iveting....Fun Home is a beautiful, assured piece of work, by far the best thing Bechdel has done in over two decades as a cartoonist....Bechdel's cartooning has transmuted his life and death into an extraordinary book..." Douglas Wolk, Salon.com
"The year's best (graphic) novel is brilliantly conceived and fearlessly executed, and you will not soon forget your journey through it." Portland Oregonian
"At times, Bechdel's prose gets a little opaque — not because she's a bad writer, but because I didn't pay attention in high school....Fun Home is an intricate document of a childhood that, ultimately, was enough like mine — only with a few more literary references — that for me, it worked." Jill Soloway, Los Angeles Times
"A pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions... Bechdel's rich language and precise images combine to create a lush piece of work — a memoir where concision and detail are melded for maximum, obsessive density." Sean Wilsey, The New York Times Book Review
"Bechdel's drawing style is simple but effective." San Francisco Chronicle
"A comic book for lovers of words! Bechdel's rich language and precise images combine to create a lush piece of work." Sean Wilsey, New York Times
In this groundbreaking, bestselling graphic memoir, Alison Bechdel charts her fraught relationship with her late father. In her hands, personal history becomes a work of amazing subtlety and power, written with controlled force and enlivened with humor, rich literary allusion, and heartbreaking detail.
Distant and exacting, Bruce Bechdel was an English teacher and director of the town funeral home, which Alison and her family referred to as the "Fun Home." It was not until college that Alison, who had recently come out as a lesbian, discovered that her father was also gay. A few weeks after this revelation, he was dead, leaving a legacy of mystery for his daughter to resolve.
About the Author
Alison Bechdel has been a careful archivist of her own life and kept a journal since she was ten. Since 1983 she has been chronicling the lives of various characters in the fictionalized Dykes to Watch Out For strip, "one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period" (Ms.). The strip is syndicated in 50 alternative newspapers, translated into multiple languages, and collected into a book series with a quarter of a million copies in print. Utne magazine has listed DTWOF as "one of the greatest hits of the twentieth century."
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