three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
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A Family Tragicomic

A-Fun HomeAlison Bechdel, author of the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, taps her skills as both writer and illustrator in this graphic memoir. The author came of age in an impeccably restored—and incredibly cloistered—Victorian home on Maple Avenue in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania. "We ate together, but otherwise were absorbed in our separate pursuits," she writes. While she wrote and drew and her brothers went their own ways, her emotionally distant father pursued sex with young boys. An English teacher, funeral parlor director, and historic preservationist, he tried to hide his homosexuality until his untimely death (or suicide). In this environment Bechdel, yearning for a close father-daughter relationship but unaware of her father’s travails, discovered her own homosexuality and started to make sense of her own history.
Houghton Mifflin. 232 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0618477942

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel’s slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, Fun Home, must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions." Sean Wilsey

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Throughout the memoir, but most especially here, the magic of the graphic format emerges. Ms. Bechdel’s qualms, trepidation, and excitement emerge from the words and images working together. Somehow adding the two ingredients together conveys more than either one could do alone." George Gene Gustines

Portland Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"The year’s best (graphic) novel is brilliantly conceived and fearlessly executed, and you will not soon forget your journey through it. … In Bechdel’s hands, that relationship between narrative and illustration is complex and ever-changing, often seeming to be at cross-purposes until the novelist brings them, through creative will, into harmonious union." Steve Duin

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"The recurring image of her father comes from classical mythology: Daedalus, the architect of the Labyrinth who wrought wings for himself and his son Icarus out of feathers and wax. Like Daedalus on Crete, Bruce Bechdel was trapped in the insular world of a small Allegheny town, many of whose inhabitants were relatives." Charles Solomon

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"As much as she isn’t sure of what she’s seeing, Bechdel’s great care in documenting the female coming-of-age experience is radical, even groundbreaking." Jill Soloway

Houston Chronicle 2.5 of 5 Stars
"She’s both drawn to and put off by her father, an ambivalence that never resolves itself. This makes for a psychologically astute but curiously structured book." Fritz Lanham

Critical Summary

That Alison Bechdel kept a childhood journal made Fun Home a perhaps more true-to-life project than it would have been if she’d relied on memory alone. A powerful graphic novel-memoir, Fun Home documents Bechdel’s childhood experiences and coming-of-age as a woman and lesbian. At its center lies her heartbreaking relationship with her distant father, which produces emotionally complex and poignant reflections and clean, bitonal images. While detractors cited confusing chronology and repetition of events, literary buffs enjoyed the challenging references to Albert Camus, James Joyce, and classical mythology. In the end, Fun Home "is an engrossing memoir that does the graphic novel format proud" (New York Times).

Other Graphic Memoirs

Persepolis The Story of a Childhood | Marjane Satrapi; translated by Mattias Ripa and Blake Ferris (2003): 3.5 of 5 Stars Sept/Oct 2003. In this black-and-white graphic memoir, Satrapi, the child of left-leaning and privileged parents, lives in Tehran. In 1979 the Shah is overthrown and the new Islamic regime changes the country’s culture.

I Never Liked You | Chester Brown (1994): Brown’s autobiographical study of adolescence is biting and true, and his spare illustrations draw the reader into the character’s loneliness and confused reality.