Bechdel’s memoir offers a graphic narrative of uncommon richness, depth, literary resonance and psychological complexity.
Though Bechdel (known for her syndicated “Dykes to Watch Out For” strip and collections) takes her formal cues from comic books, she receives more inspiration from the likes of Proust and Joyce as she attempts to unravel the knots of her family’s twisted emotional history. At the core of this compelling narrative is her relationship with her father, a literary-minded high-school teacher who restores and runs the familial funeral parlor. (It is also the family’s residence and the “fun home” of the title.) Beneath his icy reserve and fussy perfectionism, he is a barely closeted homosexual and a suspected pedophile, an imposing but distant presence to his young daughter, who finds that their main bond is a shared literary sensibility. As she comes of age as an artist and comes to terms with her own sexual identity, Bechdel must also deal with the dissolution of her parents’ marriage and, soon afterward, her father’s death. Was it an accident or was it suicide? How did her father’s sexuality shape her own? Rather than proceeding in chronological fashion, the memoir keeps circling back to this central relationship and familial tragedy, an obsession that the artist can never quite resolve or shake. The results are painfully honest, occasionally funny and penetratingly insightful. Feminists, lesbians and fans of underground comics will enthusiastically embrace this major advance in Bechdel’s work, which should significantly extend both her renown and her readership.
Though this will likely be stocked with graphic novels, it shares as much in spirit with the work of Mary Karr, Tobias Wolff and other contemporary memoirists of considerable literary accomplishment.