Click here to read reviewer Lance Eaton's take on Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
When Alison Bechdel was in college, she came out to her family. A short time later, her father was killed, run over by a truck while crossing the street. Bechdel searches for a connection between the two events through her parent’s separate art, her own childhood, the political movements of four decades, her family’s shared creativity, and the funeral home-- “Fun Home”-- where her family lived and worked in Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.
With her father’s death, her parent’s awkward marriage, and her own confused adolescent sense of identity pervading the book, it would easy for Fun Home to be depressing, or at least self-absorbed. But as Bechdel notes in her acknowledgement to her brothers, “we did have a lot of fun, in spite of everything.” The spirit of that statement pervades the book. Bechdel never shies away from portraying the often unsettling realities of life with a closeted father and parents locked in an unloving marriage, but she never wallows in self pity or tries to find blame either.
Fun Home is honest, engaging, and above all, funny, in the rare way that only shared experience softened through time can be funny. When Bechdel recounts her childhood experience with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or the death of her cousin, it’s horrible, but told with a sense of perspective that makes the experience seem almost normal at first, and only jarring in retrospect-- like most of childhood.
Much of the effectiveness of Fun Home is due to Bechdel’s artwork. A memoir of daily American life is a dangerous subject for graphic illustration. Lacking explosions, special effects, or occasions for speed lines, memoirs invite the dreaded “talking head” syndrome. Bechdel avoids this with a sort of virtual collage, enlivening her narrative with maps, diaries, photos, and flashbacks, as well as the sort of framing and stage setting that wins major awards when done with a camera instead of a pen.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is so enjoyable, it’s easy to overlook how plain wonderful it is. But it happens to be one of the best graphic novels of the year, and may even be the best personal memoir of the year, graphic or otherwise. Bookstores may send it the comic book ghetto section of their store, or skip ordering it completely, but don’t let that keep you from seeking out Fun Home.