Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company
Release Date: June 8th, 2006
Format: Hardcover, 234 pages
My Rating: ★★★★
A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books.
This breakout book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, it's a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form.
Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books.
When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic — and redemptive.
I feel very conflicted about this book. I did enjoy it, and I would highly recommend it, but there are a few instances were it kind of missed the mark for me.
On the one hand, this is a very poignant graphic memoir about relationships, family dynamics and identity that hits on a lot of key points about life. I really appreciate the exploration of Alison's relationship with her father and how they were kind of two mirrored pieces. This book was actually a reading option for the Autobiographical Acts class I took at my University. I would have loved to have explored this book better in a paper for that class, but unfortunately the class was assigned books for the paper and I didn't get assigned this. This book has a lot of great themes, and I think college kids can relate to the coming of age story that deals with self-discovery. I did really enjoy the Daedalus and Icarus metaphor that she closes the book on, and I thought it was a really good way to end the book.
On the other hand, I found parts of the metaphors and references to literature a bit much. At times her word choice, while very intelligently written, came off as a little too pretentious. I'm a firm believer in the idea that you don't need big words to convey big ideas, but at times I think the writing style tried a bit too much in using those big words. I think it makes the book a little inaccessible to people. I have to admit when she got too much with the big words, I kind of skimmed those panels to get to the next part.
The art is this book was interesting. I liked the art enough, but then when I realized that all the "photographs" and "letters" within the panels were really hand-drawn that's when I was pretty impressed. Although, I will admit I didn't get through a lot of those letters because the handwriting was really hard to read. This coming from someone with really terrible handwriting! But it wasn't just that, the weight of the font was a little too thin for me to read it. Not sure if anyone else had this issue, but it was a minor thing that gave me pause. Also, I was a bit surprised by the nudity in this graphic memoir. The first time was just some dead dude so it was kind of a shock to me. I just feel like I need to put that warning out there so people are aware of it if it's something that makes you uncomfortable.
Going back, this was a great book to include in that class I took, and I'm just a little disappointed that I wasn't able to read it and analyze it back when I was still in the academia world. I had some minor issues with this, but I think it holds a lot of merit and I highly recommend it.
Don't forget about my Comic Book Month Giveaway!