Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reviewlet: Bechel's Comic Fun Home

Vassar like many colleges assigns Freshman reading for the incoming year. This year's choice was the comic book, Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel (of the Bechdel test fame). Fun Home (short for Funeral Home) is the personal memoir of Bechdel who grew up the daughter of a small town mortician and english teacher in comic form. Her spare lines are very effective, and uses the media well, to play with non-linear narrative, and the flotsam nature of memory, which uses the comic form well to overlay narrative with cast off bits of remembered events.

My freshmen insisted on calling it a graphic novel, but I suppose old fashioned comic nerds find the euphemistic graphic novel condescending, in its suggestion that the word comic is somehow lesser. I asked if they were surprised Vassar chose a graphic novel, or if they are used to comics as being accepted as literature, and all of my advisees insisted that this is the first comic they had ever read!

I loved the book (reading its simple panel structure on the kindle app on my phone proved perfect); it dealt with themes of memory and sexuality and gender, its funeral home setting echoing the surreality of six feet under, but ultimately it is a family drama, and a daughter coming to grips with the father she grew up with. Each chapter felt like a tightly composed visual essay, and the whole, felt like a symphony with the recurring themes (of memory, of Joyce, of theater, of artifice, of fatherhood, of daughterhood, of sex) culminating in a thunderous conclusion that made me want to return to literary fiction/literary comic fiction (even though my recent reading has been Bendis' runs of X-men and Guardians of the Galaxy both of which are excellent, but ultimately still just genre fiction, albeit genre fiction at its best).

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