Jessica's Reviews > Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
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really liked it
bookshelves: hagging-out, favorites

I wonder pretty often what the point of writing books is, mostly because, well, you know, there are already so many of them...

More narrowly, I think I kind of understand why people feel compelled to write memoirs, but I do wonder -- as I remain stalled out on page 236 of Martin Amis's Experience -- why anyone ever reads them.

Fun Home answers both of these questions for me, plus a third larger one about what the point is of being alive. It seems like sort of a confusing and overwhelming waste sometimes, doesn't it? All the complexity and pain and even the great gorgeous moments in a life, because what's it all for, what's its purpose...? Can any sense or use ever be made of it really?

A: Yup!

I've been meaning to read this since it came out six years ago, and just finally got around to it. Fun Home blew my mind in that way that makes me want to devolve to swooningly banal reviewspeak and pronounce it a "stunning achievement."

Fun Home is a Stunning Achievement. I feel like I don't need to describe it because pretty much everyone else on the planet has read it by now, but in case you somehow didn't, it's a memoir written in comic form focusing primarily on Bechdel's relationship with her father, who probably (but not definitely) killed himself, following decades of small-town life as a passionate house restorer/English teacher/funeral home proprietor/tormented closet case, shortly after his daughter's announcement that she was gay. In the book, Bechdel analyzes her memories, experiences and extant documents, and uses literature to try to understand her father and tell a story about her family and about herself.

The result was so engaging and so just, well this is dumb, but meaningful that I'm really at a loss for anything unstupid to say. While reading this, I kept thinking that I was glad in a way that a lot of these things happened, that these people were who they were, because that's what led to this book being made and I was so happy to read it. From the opening pages I was so overwhelmed by her drawings and descriptions of her family's house that the book seemed almost magical to me for containing them -- sort of like, without this book, what would have been the point of that house, what would have been the point of this time period, of all these people? They all just would've come and gone, and been known by such a small number of individuals who would've eventually forgotten them. There is some process of retrieval at work here that grants these lost settings and people and events some existence that feels so vital -- it's like Proust, one of the literary references she explores, how she goes back in time to collect them -- that it's actually kind of transcendent. I'm not explaining it clearly at all, but this process is what I think art's for: making something out of the world that grants that world some extra sense or meaning beyond itself.

Though man... Faulkner wrote that "If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' is worth any number of old ladies," but I bet Faulkner never knew an autobiographical comic book artist! If he had, she probably would've made him blush and stammer a bit, but I'm sure in the end he would've stood by his statement. If I were in Bechdel's family, I might've gotten pretty pissed about this, though I like to imagine I'd be consoled by the incredible value of the product to which my privacy had been sacrificed.

Anyway, yeah. Not much of a review but hopefully my enthusiasm's come across. While in theory I know not everyone would love this book nearly as much as I did, I'd still unreservedly recommend it to pretty much anyone.
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Reading Progress

September 26, 2007 – Shelved
December 3, 2012 – Started Reading
December 3, 2012 – Shelved as: hagging-out
December 4, 2012 – Shelved as: favorites
December 4, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo it stays amazing all the way through.

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

jo you docked a star.

Jessica Because I almost never rate five stars... Thought about it with this though. I really hate the stars. I'm just not a numbers person and quantifying my subjective response to books only ever stresses me out.

message 4: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala I hadn't heard of Fun Home - do I hear echoes of ET in the title? - and I'm probably not ever going to get around to reading it, but I 'liked' your review because it was a Fun read on my Home page this morning. Thanks.

message 5: by Jason (new)

Jason I don't hate the stars, but I think they're sort of the sense that assigning them right after reading a book is hardly ever going to really mesh with the way you feel about the book down the road, once it's sunk in. I guess that's what reviews are for, though. To fill in that gap.

Jessica Fionnuala: But you should get around to it if you're at all interested! It's a pretty quick read, being a comic... The title comes from what her family called the funeral home they ran: the "fun home."

Jason: YEAH! I always want to go back later on and monkey around with the star ratings, because they feel like a measure of the book's impact on me and you're right, that isn't really clear until later on.

message 7: by jo (new) - rated it 5 stars

jo jessica, this is a phenomenally beautiful review and you convey your feelings with great precision and power. lovely lovely lovely.

Chadwick Are You My Mother? is excellent as well. Every time I read something by Bechdel, I intend to write her a fan letter, and decide against it, because how can one of my letters ever express how much I appreciate existing in the same world as someone so damned talented.

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