Monday, April 28, 2014

I was Spartan to my father's Athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his Nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete.

It's taken me awhile to try a graphic novel. Or rather, it's taken me awhile to try another graphic novel. I read The Watchmen after the movie came out. Or maybe right before. I don't remember because this happened before I started this blog and thus I don't have a record for when this happened. Anyway, I haven't read a graphic novel since then. At least not until reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel recently. Which makes me want to try to read other graphic novels, so good stuff.

If you're like me, you were probably already familiar with the Bechdel test. If not, here's the basics. For a movie (or really any form of fiction) to pass the Bechdel test it must meet 3 requirements: 1) It has to have at least 2 women in it. 2) They have to talk to one another. 3) About something other than men. The test doesn't answer if a movie good or not. It doesn't answer if a movie is feminist or not. It's just a jumping off point to see how women are represented. It's amazing how many movies fail this test since it's really simple.

But this isn't about her test. This is about her graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. I had been sort of looking for it during my birthday trip to The Strand. By "sort of looking" I mean I tried to find it but when I initially failed I didn't want to bother asking information. BUT THEN there was a copy sitting near the register so clearly it's a sign and I snagged it along with a copy of Lexicon.

Fun Home is her memoir but it really feels like the story of her father as much as of herself. Her family owned a funeral home (hence Fun Home and I realize I keep calling it Fun House because even though there's this really great pun there I keep missing it because I'm special like that) that used to belong to her paternal grandfather. Her father does not seem like the most fun guy to live with.
He was more concerned with the house and interior decorating than he was with spending time with his family. He had a temper, although this isn't the story of a tyrant running the house. Bechdel loved her father and was close to him and she got older and the two could bond over literature.

Years later, when Alison was in college, her father died. The official report was it was an accident. He was hit by a truck while crossing a busy street. The belief within the family is that it was a suicide.

The story skips forward and back, from her childhood to her time in college, to her parents when they were first married, and back again. The story is funny and sad, poignant and happy. Her relationship with her father is complex, as I suppose all relationships are when honestly considered. It's not just that the story works, but that this works as a graphic novel. At no point did I wish I was reading a traditional narrative instead. The artwork goes with the story. The story goes with the artwork. It all works together.

You should read this. If you like graphic novels, you should read this. If you don't like graphic novels, you should give this a chance. It makes me want to try other graphic novels. If you like memoirs, you should read this. It's a smart book with references to Proust and Joyce and other super-smart writers. So another reason to give it a try.

Side note, where do you typically find graphic novels in bookstores? Like I said, I found Fun Home because it happened to be near the register. But where do you typically find them if they're not just dropped into your lap via fate?

Title quote from page 15

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Mariner Books, 2006.