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Alison Bechdel's family tragicomic

Alison Bechdel's family tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

By Alison Bechdel

Houghton Mifflin, 2006

Fun Home is Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir of growing up with her emotionally distant and closeted gay father, Bruce.

The memoir is set partly in rural Pennsylvania, through the 1960s to the 1980s. Bruce is an army veteran obsessed with literature, antiques and heritage restoration of the family home.

His problematic attraction to teenage boys is eventually exposed through the legal system, leading to his suicide at the same time Alison is coming out as a lesbian.

Fun Home refers to the family’s funeral home business. Being from a small town, Bruce is also an English teacher at the local high school. In an Addams Family-esque way, they develop a cavalier attitude to death.

As Alison grows up, she comes to share Bruce’s love of literature: Albert Camus, Greek myths, James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, F Scott Fitzgerald and Proust, among others.

Bechdel’s gentle, bluish, two-tone artwork serves to soften the emotionally-scarring events of her life. The position of an eyelid, a dot for a mouth or the slightest extra line on Bruce’s face is enough to convey the right emotional reaction. Alison’s acts of self-pleasure and lesbian encounters are treated in an understated way.

Occasional family trips to bohemian New York reveal another side of her parents’ former lives to Alison — versions of themselves they jettisoned in order to “fit in”. I wondered whether, in a more accepting society, Bruce might not have killed himself. Through her reflections, Alison comes to understand the hidden ways through which her father expressed his love for her.

Bechdel is also known for her influential comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, which ran from 1983 to 2008, and is the source of the “Bechdel Test” — a measure of the representation of women in fiction.

The test asks whether a work features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man. It should come as no surprise that a high proportion of films, TV shows, books and other media fail the test. There is a distinct lack of gender diversity in the industry.

Fun Home has been adapted into an award-winning Broadway musical and actor/producer Jake Gyllenhaal is planning to produce a movie-version of the memoir.