Ted's Reviews > Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
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Nov 18, 14

bookshelves: biography-autobiography, graphic, have, women-s-works, reviews-liked
Read in July, 2012

Updated

This is a terrific book.

I would guess that a graphic memoir has never been published before, and t shows you what I knew about the graphic format! The format added an extraordinary dimension to the story. (I can't recall ever having read a graphic novel before, so in that sense the entire experience of this book was new to me.)

The book was published when Bechdel was in her mid-40s, and tells the story of her own life, up to just before her twentieth birthday, and her father’s life, up to the same point in time, when he was run over by a truck - possibly accidentally, possibly as a suicide.

Some of the things I will remember about the book, in no particular order:

1. You-couldn’t make this up. In the last few months of her father’s life, Alison had revealed to her parents (after going away to college) that she was a lesbian; soon after that she learned that her father was gay, and had been in trouble with the law in the small community in which they lived in Western Pennsylvania for an incident which had been swept under the table by the legal system in return for his agreement to accept counseling. Alison had been under the impression that he had been in trouble for buying beer for a minor, which was the charge that had been actually brought against him. Alison also learned that her mother had been aware of her dad’s tendencies for several years, and two weeks before her father’s demise had filed for divorce from him.

2. Non-linear, recursive structure. The way in which Bechdel retells, in each chapter of the book, with continually increasing detail, shifting themes, and changing perspectives, the story of her relationship with her father, and the way in which she learned more about the events preceding his death.

3. Great use of graphics. The book contains probably a thousand illustrations, many of them extremely detailed. Various bits of the story are told by the captions, by separate text boxes (such as quotations from some of her dad’s favorite books, with significant words and phrases highlighted), by the dialog balloons, and by special little notes within illustrations pointing out visual details significant to Alison’s perception of her surroundings. Here's an example, showing Allison in a lit. course at college.

Family Fun
(click to expand)

which ties in with ...

4. Literary references. Bechdel weaves her dad’s favorite books and authors (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Proust, Joyce) into the story, and uses her own explications of this literature to make key points about his personality and his outlook on life.

5. Honesty. Bechdel doesn’t hold anything back in telling this story, and thus makes a special point of thanking her two brothers and her mother “for not trying to stop me from writing this book.”

and how did I overlook, when I first wrote this ...

6. Emotion. There is some powerful emotion packed into Bechdel's story. As I flipped through the book looking for a good panel to illustrate the review, I perused the last few pages. When I finished, I was sobbing. So ...


I'm looking forward to reading Bechdel’s newest graphic book, Are You My Mother, the story of her relationship with her mother.
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Reading Progress


Comments (showing 1-30 of 30) (30 new)

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Teresa I liked this one but liked Are You My Mother? even more!


message 2: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted I haven't seen the newer book yet. I need to find that again on my radar, thanks for reminding me Teresa.


Petergiaquinta Welcome to the world of graphic novel memoirs, Ted. Here are a couple more that you might enjoy: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and The Imposter's Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell. Harvey Pekar is another guy you might want to take a look at...


message 4: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Thanks for the recommendations, Peter.


message 5: by Elisabeth (new)

Elisabeth Alison Bechdel rocks!


Lisa Vegan I loved this book but there are many graphic memoirs out there, and this wasn't my first. Great review, Ted.

Teresa, I'm looking forward to Are You My Mother? but I think I've been scared to read it. I want to though and assume I will eventually.


Lisa Vegan To add to what Petergiaquinta says, my first graphic memoirs were Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, Vol. 2: And Here My Troubles Began.


message 8: by Teresa (last edited Jul 17, 2013 01:58PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa Lisa wrote: "To add to what Petergiaquinta says, my first graphic memoirs were Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, Vol. 2: And Here My Troubles Began."

The Maus books are the first I read of these as well, Lisa. I found them powerful and intense.

I can also understand your trepidation about reading
Are You My Mother?. Some of it was exhausting, though I do mean that in a good way.


message 9: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Lisa wrote: "To add to what Petergiaquinta says, my first graphic memoirs were Maus, Vol. 1: My Father Bleeds History and Maus, Vol. 2: And Here My Troubles Began."

I hadn't thought of Maus. That's much older than any of the books mentioned in the comments, by fifteen years or so. I've never read Maus, though I bought it a few months ago.

It is a little different than these other books though, isn't it? It's biographical rather than autobiographical; and by using animals rather than people to represent the protagonists I would think that it would come across as more of a fictional story, rather than an actual narration of real events.

I don't know why Spiegelman chose to use the mice drawings, though I'm sure the answer to that is well-known; perhaps someone can supply that info here.


message 10: by Teresa (last edited Jul 17, 2013 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa It's been awhile since I read those but I believe Spiegelman inserts his own story quite a bit into his father's story of what happened during that time period and how it affects the writer. So the answer to the question of auto. vs bio. is I believe that it's a bit of both, with the first being more autobiographical than the 2nd if I'm remembering correctly.

I don't know that there's a definitive answer to that, but I found it extremely effective. I'll be interested in seeing how it affects you, but I seem to remember it creates both an intimate and a distancing (in order to take in the horror) effect.


message 11: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Teresa wrote: "It's been awhile since I read those but I believe Spiegelman inserts his own story quite a bit into his father's story of what happened during that time period and how it affects the writer. So th..."

I will be very interested in reading it.

Despite the awards won by the book, and its obvious artistic merit, according to the Wiki article it has had its controversial side, and many academic studies recount these issues. When it first came out the mainstream media also had a very difficult time deciding how to describe the "genre".

See the two sections here (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maus#Rec...) for details.


message 12: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Vegan Ted wrote: "I don't know why Spiegelman chose to use the mice drawings, though I'm sure the answer to that is well-known; perhaps someone can supply that info here."

It's autobiographical because he's writing his own story about how his father's experiences affected his own life.

Mice = Jews & cats = Nazis.

Very effective!


message 13: by Ted (last edited Jul 17, 2013 02:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Lisa wrote: "Ted wrote: "I don't know why Spiegelman chose to use the mice drawings, though I'm sure the answer to that is well-known; perhaps someone can supply that info here."

It's autobiographical because ..."


And pigs = Poles. In fact where you come from (or whether you are Jewish) determines the animal "race" (species) that you are in the book. This has been the source for some of the criticisms of the book.


message 14: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Vegan Ah, I'd forgotten that. Re the pigs.


message 15: by Teresa (last edited Jul 17, 2013 02:26PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Teresa And Americans are dogs, except for American Jews, who remain mice. I'd forgotten all of that as well, as what ended up being most powerful (and thus memorable) were the depictions of the mice and cats.


message 16: by Lisa (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lisa Vegan Yep, All I remember are the mice & cats.


message 17: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue This is such a good book I found her second one in the library sale room for a dollar, brand new, but haven't read it yet. The Complete Mays was my first graphic novel. Very powerful.


Teresa Sue wrote: "This is such a good book I found her second one in the library sale room for a dollar, brand new ..."

Wow, what a great deal!


message 19: by Garima (new)

Garima This sounds awesome. Thanks for this review, Ted.


message 20: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Garima wrote: "This sounds awesome. Thanks for this review, Ted."

You're welcome, Garima! It really is a fun thing to read. Alison Bechtel received a MacArthur Fellowship a few days ago. To me, that is a wonderful honor.

http://www.macfound.org/press/press-r...


message 21: by Praj (new)

Praj You had me at "This is a terrific book."

It's been a while since I read a graphic book. I shall be adding this to my list, now. Thanks for a wonderful write up, Ted :)


message 22: by Dolors (new)

Dolors What a well structured and condensed review Ted, you make this graphic novel sound very appealing.


message 23: by Caroline (new)

Caroline It sounds absolutely extraordinary, and incredibly rich. Lovely review Ted!


message 24: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Praj wrote: "You had me at "This is a terrific book."

It's been a while since I read a graphic book. I shall be adding this to my list, now. Thanks for a wonderful write up, Ted :)"


Thanks friend. I'll have to remember that hook. But use it wisely.


message 25: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Dolors wrote: "What a well structured and condensed review Ted, you make this graphic novel sound very appealing."

I appreciate that comment very much, Dolors.


message 26: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Caroline wrote: "It sounds absolutely extraordinary, and incredibly rich. Lovely review Ted!"

And you know, IT ISN'T FICTION, Caroline! So I hope you might be tempted. ;}


message 27: by Jim (last edited Nov 19, 2014 09:53AM) (new)

Jim Ted wrote (about Maus):

where you come from (or whether you are Jewish) determines the animal "race" (species) that you are in the book. This has been the source for some of the criticisms of the book.

Mere disapproval of a literary device/metaphor may not be worthy to be called "criticism". It takes more work than a feeling - thinking/argumentation is required (though I note, often not by editors of journalists).

In Animal Farm, Brown was Nicholas, the pigs were the Bolsheviks, the other animals were the proles. The banished pig was Trotsky.

(Orwell was kinder than the actual crimi.. uh Bolsheviks - Brown and Snowball lived).

I suppose Orwell was "criticised" for those metaphors too.


message 28: by Jim (last edited Nov 19, 2014 09:52AM) (new)

Jim Back to Bechdel - she was in heavy rotation in our house at one time - might be time to fire that up again.


message 29: by Ted (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ted Jim wrote: "Ted wrote (about Maus):

where you come from (or whether you are Jewish) determines the animal "race" (species) that you are in the book. This has been the source for some of the criticisms of the ..."


I was referring to "criticisms" that are outlined in the Wiki article about Maus, just pointing them out, not endorsing. I've never read the book. Though I think I can see why Polish people reading the book now might find their countrymen depicted as pigs a little off-putting?


message 30: by Jim (new)

Jim I wish my father's folks were still alive to weigh in on Polish perception (though their's would be about 100-years earlier than the protestors' - Dad was born in 1916).

As an Alaskan, I suspect I'm even more insular than Americans are said to be (as Yakov Smirnov said 'Wat a (big) country!')

I've been told, by those from Outside (outside Alaska), that Alaskans are somewhat more inclusive/casual-about-differences (than folks "back home") - this may make us less aware of potential offenses such as Polish-goyim-portrayed-as-metaphoric-pigs.

Interesting that a Polish journalist (Bikont) chose to "set up a publishing house in 2001 to put out a Polish edition of Maus" when established "Publishers and commentators refused to deal with the book for fear of protests and boycotts" - perhaps more a matter of Commerce than Conscience (at least for the Publishers).


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