Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I first heard of Alison Bechdel in combination with the Bechdel test a few years ago. I picked up her memoir for Read Harder’s task 21, a comic by an LGBQIA creator. Bechdel’s career started with the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, and she later wrote this memoir in comic form. I appreciate seeing memoir in this format. Well, I enjoy comics in general, but I really enjoy that so many genres using the format to tell their stories. Bechdel makes great use of the comic to tell her story.

This isn’t her whole story, but it’s the story of Bechdel and her father. They had a complicated relationship. She relates it all in a way that neither embellishes nor tones down who they were or why their relationship was the way that it was. In a lot of ways, it’s about discovering her parents, but there’s more to it. I guess there always is in these kinds of stories.

The simple way to describe the book is that it’s her discovery of who her parents were and therefore of who she is, but that’s really far too simple. She spends a considerable amount of time on the inconsistencies of her father when she was a child and the sharp focus that comes from later knowledge, but she also places it all really well in the history of both her family and the country. I know that can sound unnecessary, but any time we’re dealing with a story of identity politics, we have to remember what was going on with those identities. Bechdel’s time isn’t ours and things were worse for the LGBT community and even worse in her parent’s time.

Parts of her or her parent’s story have been used in so many fictions that it can seem like the stereotype these days, which makes it that much more beneficial to realize that the ideas behind these stereotypes come from somewhere. They are rooted in truthful actions but not seen for what they were in their time, I think. I see it in Jane Austen too. Women really did behave that way but not because we were idiots, but because our ability to attract a certain kind of man was the main factor in our ability to live comfortably. That makes being attractive in the places where we can find a good one as important as a man dressing appropriately for an interview. This book gave me some of that kind of perspective on LGBT people. At least with the family dynamics.

The family dynamics are generally interesting, but there’s not much about her siblings. It focuses mainly on her father and occasionally mentions the shifting relationship with her mother as well. The comic covers her childhood up through college, so the relationships with her parents were going to change, that’s just what happens in that period. It’s more in the way some discoveries were made that makes the relationship with her father so compelling.

I enjoyed the comic as a whole and appreciate this look into Bechdel’s family which keeps in living memory the struggles of families such as her in a time that I hope we never have to return to. Add Fun Home to your Goodreads or Litsy TBR!

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