Sometimes I feel guilty about how normal my childhood was. I had a boring childhood, which is to say that nothing all that terrible happened to me. My parents never divorced, are, in fact, still together and disgustingly in love. I was a good student, if a bit shy, even if there were lean years, my sister and I never did without things we truly needed, and hell…the time my bike got stolen, it turned out my dad, sick of me leaving it in the front yard, a prime target for easy thievery, hid it in the garage. Under a sheet. That I never looked under, because I never suspected my kind, loving father would ever do such a thing.
So anyway, normal, boring childhood, ripe with suburban ennui, whatever. I’m thankful for my boring childhood, that it was so good, of course, but it doesn’t leave much for the painful creative plundering that leads to so many great works of art. Like Fun Home, for instance. I spent most of the time reading Fun Home feeling guilty for how super awesome my dad is, that he never hit me, that he wasn’t (to my knowledge) unhappy with where he’d found himself in life, and he never, ever made me help fix up our crazy old Victorian house. Maybe because we didn’t have a Victorian house, I don’t know.
I’d heard of Alison Bechdel before picking up this book, but it was because of the Bechdel Test. I wasn’t prepared for how literary and gut-wrenching Fun Home was, though. I actually didn’t know anything about it, having received it as a Christmas gift from my comic-loving husband. When we first met, I’d never read a comic, let alone an entire graphic novel, but after he gave me Smile (by Raina Telgemeier), I was hooked on autobiographical graphic novels, the ones that either left me laughing hysterically or practically bent over in pain, trying to protect my breaking heart. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic belongs in that latter category, naturally. Fun Home, which is the nickname Bechdel and her siblings gave to the funeral home in which her father worked, is about Alison Bechdel’s relationship with her father, which was OK at the good times, and quite troubled at the not-so-good times. Bechdel struggles to understand him as she gets older, while she’s struggling with her own “who am I?” moments, as well as her sexuality.
Bechdel uses a number of allusions to classic literature, from Greek myths to Gatsby, and, to be completely honest, seven years removed as I am from my last college lit course, I’m guessing some of it went over my head. This speaks to my own prejudices, I suppose, but I wasn’t expecting to do so much THINKING while reading a graphic novel. My mistake. I suppose what I love about these autobiographical graphic novels, like Fun Home and Smile, is that I get a glimpse into the artist’s life, not only through the written word but visually. Seemingly mundane events, like watching fireworks on the 4th of July, become grand milestones in the artist’s life, and make me wonder if maybe my own life isn’t as small and insignificant as it sometimes seems. And since I’ve somehow made this review all about me, isn’t that all that matters?