KFed's Reviews > Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
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's review
Jun 07, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: favorites, biography-autobiography

Alison Bechdel’s comic-form autobiography Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic begins and ends with strong textual and visual images of her father. The book’s first full drawing on the title page of chapter one is, in fact, a recreation of an old photograph of the enigmatic man. It sums up all that is impossible to capture about the man’s sexual and emotional being in one frame. As well, it sums up everything that makes this work artistically and thematically remarkable, an important contribution to literary treatments of emotional trauma and to American letters more generally.

In this snapshot, re-drawn and recreated with painstaking detail by the author, a young Bruce Bechdel stands shirtless and lissome in front of his home, eyes trained directly at the reader. His exact expression is difficult to read definitively. A title beneath the photo reads “Old Father, Old Artificer,” and with this, the book immediately marks its point of entry; it deliberately marks and characterizes the man around whom the next 200 pages of image and text will center. The final frame of the work is a drawing of the same man in a swimming pool, older, waiting for his daughter, a young Alison Bechdel, to leap into his arms. By the time the reader reaches this frame, the sentiment it evokes will seem almost out of place.

The two drawings taken together present both the range of Bechdel’s textual and visual project as well as the progression of her autobiographical narrative. The drawings of Bechdel’s father, framing the narrative like so, give the reader opportunity to trace a progression in narrative focus, from Bechdel’s careful consideration of her father’s secret and separate homosexual life to the consideration of the effect that this life had on the rest of his family. The book is entirely concerned with these dynamics, not least because fleshing out the life of the mysterious man on the work’s opening page is essential to understanding the life of the author herself. Fun Home is an exercise in retrospective exploration; the work engages visual and textual narratives through which the author is able to reconfigure memories of her adolescence as well as the specific moment of trauma out of which many questions of identity and selfhood for the author arose: the moment she discovered that her father committed suicide. Key to our understanding of Bechdel’s project is the notion of ‘representation’, taken to indicate something that is being re-presented, re-created, or re-rendered: a ‘re-presentation’ of the past – the people, objects and actions that are adapted into a narrative through which the author is able to ‘work through’ the trauma of her father’s death.

What I loved about this work, and what marks its importance for me, is the success of this project of re-rendering and what it says about artistic approaches to representing trauma. Underlying the basics of the work's plot are questions of genre and representation. It is as if Bechdel wants, continually, to ask: Could a novel, alone, have achieved this? Could a drawing, on its own, have represented this?

The image in which we see her facing her father’s dead body in a casket, for example, spans the width of the page but is actually split down its center as if it were two panels, and cut in half by this split is the author’s representation of herself viewing the casket and her father’s body; she is literally, in the moment that she sees her father, halved in two. The trauma of the loss of the physical presence of her father – the rupture of the ‘whole’ of his image – is, as suggested by this choice in cropping, such that she is ruptured.

This is no ordinary representation. Fun Home is thoughtful, challenging, and most of all, a pleasure to read.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
June 7, 2009 – Shelved
October 20, 2011 – Shelved as: favorites
October 20, 2011 – Shelved as: biography-autobiography

Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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message 1: by Bram (new) - added it

Bram Impressive review--you have definitely convinced me to give this book a shot.

KFed Do!

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

What a great review. I don't think I could ever possibly write a review of this caliber. I'm impressed and humbled.

KFed What a nice thing to say! Thank you!

message 5: by Orishaz (new)

Orishaz Awesome review. I have to read this book.

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