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Book Review: Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Year: 2006
Pages: 232
Dates Read: May 16–27, 2017
Format: Hardcover
Genres: B, GN, NF
Rating: ★★★★
Summary: A graphic novel exploration of some difficult issues in Alison Bechdel’s childhood.  “Fun Home” is her family’s nickname for the funeral home they ran.

Most people who know the name Bechdel will recognize it from the Bechdel Test, which can be passed if two female characters discuss something that doesn’t deal with a man.  Does Bechdel pass her own test in this book?  Certainly.

I don’t really have much to say about this book other than “You should read it.”  It’s a very smart text, which may put off a lot of readers, but it explores some touchy subjects, such as homosexuality (and the personal discovery of it), gender identity struggles, personal sexual exploration, and parental death.

The biggest subject covered in the book is Bechdel’s father: his sexuality, his sexual encounters with both men and boys outside of his marriage, and his uncanny death.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book is how marvelously well Bechdel structured the intertextuality.  There are references in the text to both the lives and works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, and more.  And they all tie in perfectly to the lives of the characters as they are presented in the book.  When young Alison reads a book in the story, older Alison finds connections between those texts and the events and people in her life.  Some other texts referenced are Wallace Stevens’s “Sunday Morning,” J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, and Homer’s Odyssey.

At times, this book was just too smart for me.  Not only were there several words I had to Google, but the concept nearly flew over my head sometimes.  But the intertextuality just blew me away.  While reading this, I almost felt like I was in a literature class and the other students were saying profound things while I was still pondering whatever the last point or topic was.  That being said, this is a great piece of literature.

Favorite Quotes:

  • “If my father was a Fitzgerald character, my mother stepped right out of Henry James–a vaporous American idealist ensnared by degenerate continental forces (66).”
  • “Causality implies connection, contact of some kind.  And however convincing they might be, you cn’t lay hands on a fictional character (84).”
  • “For a wild moment I entertained the idea that my father had timed his death with this in mind, as some sort of deranged tribute (86).”
    • Both Fitzgerald and Bechdel’s father died when they were 44.
  • “Not only were we inverts, we were inversions of one another (98).”
    • “While I was trying to compensate for something unmanly in him…he was attempting to express something feminine through me (98).”
  • “What if Icarus hadn’t hurtled into the sea?  What if he’d inherited his father’s inventive bent?  What might he have wrought (231)?”
    • “He did hurtle into the sea, of course.  But in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt (232).”

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