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#33 [Apr. 15th, 2010|08:35 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#33 FUN HOME – Alison Bechdel
(Houghton Mifflin)

“At the fun home, Dad would take a break from his grisly chores to tweak the stiff arrangements delivered by the florist.”

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s memoir of the difficult relationship she had with her father. The Fun Home of the title is both the family’s cute abbreviation for the funeral home where he worked part-time – he was also an English teacher – and an ironic moniker for their family home. Her parents fought constantly and Bechdel almost never draws either of them with a smile, but there’s humour to be found even so. As a child she identifies with the Addams family because her father has restored their Pennsylvania house with gothic frills and drapes everywhere – too young to read the captions she doesn’t realise the characters are supposed to be odd, assuming they’re an ordinary family just like hers.

Each chapter follows a theme, examining and repeating the story as seen from a new angle rather than simply enumerating the next event in sequence. It circles like a vulture, which is apt both because of the funeral home and the death of her father at Fun Home’s centre. In one chapter we see everything through the lens of literary comparisons, because a love of books was one of the few things father and daughter shared. Another chapter is about her obsessive-compulsiveness, especially as expressed through her diary, which has the end result of filling her story with detail, both architectural and historical. One of the most fascinating chapters is about homosexuality – something else they had in common, as Bechdel discovers in one of those absurd twists real life specialises in.

Where Alison Bechdel is out and proud, her father lived a double life that, in retrospect, she sees as the cause of her family’s troubles. In one of her recurring literary comparisons she likens him to Daedalus, builder of the Labyrinth, but where he built an artifice of lies she builds one of truth, using Fun Home to meticulously fill in the gaps in her childhood diary where she’d been too scared and coy to mention masturbating or having her first period. Where Bechdel the elder restored a house, Bechdel the younger constructs a memory castle, a maze that loops but never dead-ends, that drags you along on a string that back-tracks and criss-crosses until it meets something profound at its heart.