John Pistelli's Reviews > Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
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really liked it
bookshelves: comics, memoir, teaching, twenty-first-century, nonfiction

Fun Home is refreshing in its broadness of approach. I was gently complaining in my review of a recent graphic novel that too many indie comics, whether memoir or fiction, seem content to describe personal experience lyrically and leave it at that. But Bechdel places her experience and that of her family members within much larger narrative frames, establishing--and then wryly reflecting on her own contingent establishment of--links between the Bechdel family and the Wilde trial, Stonewall, Joyce's mythic method, Paris in the '20s, and more. This allows her personal history to ripple out into world history, and therefore makes it easier for the reader to sympathize with--because readers are provoked to think of themselves in relation to the bigger stories of which Bechdel's story is a part.

I also like this book's essayism, its discursiveness, its calculated refusal of the dramatic mode--scene and dialogue--that only seems natural to comics on the basis of a mistaken analogy to cinema. Sometimes I suspect that comics is a more ideal medium for presenting concepts than for telling stories; language itself, unadorned, seems to me the more efficient narrative medium, whereas comics can harness the power of words and images to present ideas in a multifaceted and vivid way. This book points in that direction--its subtext, not the story of her father but that of the sexual history of aesthetic modernism, made me want to see Bechdel in full impersonal non-fiction mode.

Accordingly--maybe every gain in one area is a loss somewhere else--I'm not sure I ever became absorbed in this book at a story-and-character level. I think I prefer Bechdel the multimedia theorist, personably discoursing on Henry James and the gay scene in the '70s Village, to Bechdel the memoirist. This is more a complaint about the writing than the art, and is probably an inevitable cost of avoiding dramatic structure: art-wise, her figures are totally alive and, having become so thoroughly acquainted with her father as she draws him, I think I'd be shocked to see a photo of him.

A mature, accomplished work; we might say, stealing from Virginia Woolf, one of the few graphic novels written for grown-up people!

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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 22, 2014 – Shelved as: comics
October 22, 2014 – Shelved
October 22, 2014 – Shelved as: memoir
October 22, 2014 – Shelved as: teaching
October 22, 2014 – Shelved as: twenty-first-century
September 17, 2018 – Shelved as: nonfiction

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