Peter Derk's Reviews > Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
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's review
Sep 15, 2015

did not like it
bookshelves: did-not-finish

Here's why I give this book only a single star and didn't finish it.

Alison Bechdel is smart. And here's how my relationship goes with people who are chronically, unendingly smart usually goes.

1. I think to myself, "I want to talk to some smart people who have big ideas."

2. I avail myself of a smart person.

3. Smart person tells me an oral sex story, comparing the events to Homeric writings, perhaps even using the word "Homeric".

4. Smart person asks a lot of questions like, "Have you read Proust?" Not because anything about me makes them think I would enjoy Proust.

5. I go home and eat Bugles straight off the coffee table while I play video games and realize that this makes me much happier. Even though I'm eating with my face the way a dog does.

I know that Fun Home isn't designed to make me happy. That's not its purpose. I'm cool with experiences that aren't as fun as being drunk on a rollercoaster. I'm great with books and movies and songs that make me, specifically, unhappy.

Fun Home, though well-executed in a lot of ways, was just not compelling to me. It seemed to almost push away emotion with vocabulary and reference, and it felt very cold to me. The method of referencing classic literature to explain Bechdel's life events made them less impactful, to me. The specificity of her experiences and her father's character especially were interesting, and to me, the narrative and the narrative voice were weakened by the way the references made them more universal.

Please note the repeated phrase "to me."

I mean, when Bechdel is with a partner, she says:

"Joan was not just a visionary and activist, but a bona fide cyclops...she'd lost one eye in a childhood accident vividly reminiscent of the way Odysseus blinded Polyphemus."

For those unfamiliar, Polyphemus was this big-ass cyclops dude in The Odyssey. Odysseus and his men land on an island, check out this cave full of stuff, and then Polyphemus rolls a big stone in front of the opening so the men are trapped inside. Every couple days he eats a couple of the guys until Odysseus gets him drunk and stabs him right in his only damn eye. Then, he and the uneaten men make an escape.

That's how Polyphemus lost an eye.

Here's Joan's description of how she lost her eye, which is in a word balloon right beneath this Polyphemus stuff:

"A boy shot me with one of those toy arrows after the suction cup fell off."



Joan, it turns out, was not a cycloptic giant who ate men she trapped in a cave. She had a childhood incident that killed one of her eyes. If anything, this story is more reminiscent of the holiday classic A Christmas Story than it is of Homer's Odyssey. I mean, the only parallel I see here is that both Polyphemus and this woman lost an eye. That's it. That's like, "My name is Pete. And wait a second. Peter in the Bible...he was crucified upside-down...and I get dizzy when rollercoasters go upside-down...what a fascinating parallel!"

I'm not going to say that I think Bechdel is being disingenuous. She clearly thinks quite deeply about culture and literature and whatnot, and this might actually be how her brain works. And that's cool. But as a reader, it feels like a long way to go to tie two things together that don't need to be tied together in the first place. And while the book is very reflective, it doesn't feel self-aware in a way of "I know it sounds ridiculous, but here's what I thought of..." Or, "Cut me some slack. I was in college."

I guess there's a way in which this just sounds like anti-intellectual talk. And I assure you, it's not. It's not because I don't understand words like "humectant" or am unwilling to investigate. It's not because I refuse to believe that Bechdel really thinks and talks that way.

It's because I don't want to read that way. 1-star review is because, for me, it's 1 star. I'm not a pro reviewer or anything, and I don't feel responsible to rate something as I imagine it would be rated by the general public. Nor is that a worthwhile exercise because you can see the average rating, so go with that.

There you go. A smart person, no complaints about the politics of the story whatsoever. And frankly, its status as a classic doesn't bother me even though I don't like it. This can be a classic as can something I like. There can be more than one canon graphic novel, and there will be. It's just a book that doesn't interest me or tell a story in a way that I can appreciate.

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Reading Progress

04/03 marked as: did-not-finish

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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Iris About your comment "it felt very cold to me" I kind of thought it was supposed to feel that way. She was reflecting very unemotionally. Just my thoughts.

Peter Derk Hi Iris!

I don't disagree with that. I think everything about the way Fun Home was written is on purpose. I certainly wouldn't say that it was intended to splash the emotions on the page.

For me, it's a matter of reading preference. I don't prefer books that are written with a lot of emotional walls thrown up, in general. So it could very well be an instance where the book succeeded in its goals, but its goals as a work are not ones that interest me as a reader.

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