January 12, 2007

Family Drama

This book was a nominee for the graphic novels category of the 2006 Cybil Awards.

I can say unequivocally that Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is one of the best graphic novels I've read this year, or maybe in several years, which is why I was so happy to see it prominently displayed in the local Corporate Book Depot. It's not the typical story promoted on commercial bookshelves—a memoir in comics, this is the hilarious, tragic, no-holds-barred story of a young woman coming to terms with her father's death and her own sexuality.

Well-written, complex, subtle, deep; I can't say enough good things about it. Really. The only qualification I have is that it's most suitable for older YA readers and adults, because it is a story from a very adult, very worldly and educated perspective. Literary allusions to James Joyce and Marcel Proust were a bit over my head, let alone the heads of readers under age 16 or so. However, Bechdel works in these references and others incredibly skillfully, telling the story of her family's turbulent relationship with her father as they grow up in and around the family business, which just happens to be a funeral home.

Weaving skillfully back and forth in time between the narrator's adolescent years and the hindsight of young womanhood, Bechdel deals with tumultuous events—her father's hidden battle with his own sexuality, his untimely and possibly not accidental death, and her own realization of being a lesbian—with sometimes touching, sometimes morbid humor and a distinctive artistic style.

The combination of varied pen-and-ink lines with blue-gray background washes creates a sense of nostalgia and memory that's well-suited to a thoughtful autobiographical exploration. Echoes of classic American comics meld seamlessly with a more modern sensibility, and the whole thing is infused with a love of words and literature. And, frankly, though it's not necessarily a happy story, it's laugh-out-loud funny in many places. Graphic novel gold.

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