Friday, June 11, 2010

Review: "A Family Tragicomic"

I am becoming such a fan of graphic novels, specifically memoirs or journals because I really don't like sci-fi or dystopian stories and they seem to fill a lot of the graphic category. I think graphica is such a refreshing, creative medium to tell a story. I love discovering the styles of new artists and reading a story as illustrated through their eyes.

So, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel was the latest stop on my graphica train. Alison and her two brothers grew up in an....eccentric household. Her house was one of past Victorian grandeur, and her dad worked diligently to restore it to its former glory by constantly painting, cleaning, arranging, adding new antiques here and there. I'm pretty sure he knew his house better than his own kids. Outside of his penchant for interior decorating, he was a high school English teacher (along with Alison's mother, also a teacher) and the director of the family-owned funeral home (aka, the "Fun Home"). And beyond all of that, he was also a closeted homosexual who was involved with students and baby-sitters, which contributed to his general aura of iciness and conflict. But Alison doesn't find that out until much later.

The backbone of Fun Home is Bechdel coming to terms with her relationship with her father and his secret life after his accidental death by semi-truck. She finds parallels between his life and her own as she begins to define herself as a lesbian—lots of those "Aha!" moments when she reflects on her dad in retrospect.

The story is told like this: Bechdel provides an overarching narrative and the individual comic panels serve to illustrate her point, usually by showing a memory or event that she deems significant. There's a lot of hopping around in time, a lot of events revisited once the author has gained new information to shape the memory differently. If that sounds confusing, I promise it's more confusing to explain than it is to read. It actually flowed really well and kinda helped give the feeling that we as the reader were having "Aha!" moments alongside the author.

There's a lot to these 240 pages. Bechdel worked hard to put you in a specific time and place, illustrating details like company logos and specific television programs drawn on the TV. She tied in pop culture and current events during her quest to find meaning in it all. Sometimes her phrasing while theorizing was so academic and philosophically poetic that I begged for simple English (ie: "I was Spartan to my father's Athenian, modern to his Victorian, Butch to his Nelly, utilitarian to his aesthete."), but in the end, I think that's what gave the story some of its charm. Bechdel's story has so many layers that are exciting to discover. It was kind of a reminder that people, as well, have layers, and what lies beneath the surface may be surprising.

In terms of content and analysis, symbolism ABOUNDS!!!! but if you want to study all of that, just head over to Goodreads, because I am not about to get into all of that after first reading. Bottom line, I loooooooved this. I wish it had been an epic graphic novel and at least double the size. Easily my favorite graphic novel so far.


Jenny said...

This sounds really good! I'm so new to graphic novels that I'm pretty much going on recommendations only for this genre, lol. I'll have to see if I can find this one somewhere!

Aarti said...

I really enjoyed this book, too! I completely agree with your comment on symbolism. It's EVERYWHERE!

Kari said...

Haha, that's why I can always count on Goodreads...for every book, someone SOMEWHERE took the time to type out a complete symbolic literary analysis. As long as I link to it, I'll remember it. Saves me the trouble!

Book, Line, and Sinker said...

i reviewed this one last fall and enjoyed it despite its dark and quirky nature. it was my first graphic novel and i developed an appreciation for the genre. i would like to next tackle some gaiman. he's next on the list. :)