Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel (Mariner Books, 2007)
Christmas break is truly amazing, and after I slept like a bear to make up for my nights of drunken debauchery, I cracked this lovely memoir and read a huge chunk of it while sitting in our driveway.
The “fun home” of Bechdel’s childhood is not a home filled with exciting sitcom shenanigans—her family lived in a funeral home. It was more of a museum for Bechdel, though, were everything is curated just so; maybe to provide her father Bruce a means of control over image. Alison suspects that her father is a homosexual, and this suspicion is confirmed as she goes through her own odyssey of self-discovery.
What I love about this memoir is that it goes beyond the mere act of remembering—how the house looked like, how her father would slave over the restoration of the family house, what books (basically, the queer canon) her father sent her when she was in college, what she wrote down in her diary as a child dealing with OCD. Artifacts from her childhood are inspected through the eyes of an adult who has lost her innocence and processed through the mind of someone who might have read too much.
I especially liked the comparisons of the significant situations—done years later, after her father had died—to the works of James Joyce, Homer, Colette, and J.D. Salinger. Alison, still grappling with her sexual discoveries while away at college, found a way to connect with her father. She read a lot for her classes and her father discussed the books through carefully typewritten letters.
During one of her holiday breaks from college (after she had written home about being a lesbian; Bruce took it surprisingly well and just talked about “options”), Alison and Bruce had their Stephen and Bloom (from Ulysses) moment. Bruce talks about his past lovers after Alison repeated her confession in person, and he takes her to a strip club/gay bar. They are denied entry (she was not 21, and the bouncer disregarded the fact that she had parental supervision), which seemed sort of funny, but I read it as a rather sad moment. At this point, even if they have had the courage to voice out what they knew to be true about themselves, what could have been a poignant, memorable moment was denied of them. I felt most sad for Bruce though, because Alison went on to embrace her identity fully, while her father was left in the shadows for the rest of his life.
The ending was lovely. Some introspection from Alison on Stephen and Bloom, talking about how paternity is more spiritual than consubstantial. The final frame: young Alison jumps off the diving board, wondering if she had been Icarus who fell to his watery grave. Bruce is waiting for the young Alison in the water, ready to catch his daughter.
My copy is from The Book Depository. I forgot how much I paid for it, but it was around $15.