I moved to San Francisco from New York in 1990. One of the ways I fell in love with the City was by voraciously reading the newspapers. There were two regular newspapers, one a morning edition and one that was published in the afternoon. There were also free papers like The Bay Guardian, similar to the Village Voice in NY. In one of the free papers–I can’t remember which now–there was a cartoon Dykes to Watch Out For, drawn by Alison Bechdel. It was funny and smart and subversive. So it’s no surprise to me that her memoir Fun Home is the same.
Fun Home is a graphic memoir drawn by Bechdel. It entwines her story as she explores her sexual identity, with her father’s, a complicated man who lived most of his life in the closet. As Bechdel comes into her own, joyfully embracing being a lesbian, her father continues to live his increasingly constrained life. His wife, Bechdel’s mother, knows about her husband’s relationships with other men during their marriage, including his fling with the children’s baby sitter.
Bechdel’s memoir is about her childhood and young adulthood and her father’s hidden life and eventual suicide at age 44. I can’t do justice to how brilliant the book is. Bechdel’s drawings are amazing, but her narrative is even moreso. At times she draws parallels to books she and her father read, including Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and James Joyce’s Ulysses. At the end of the book, she writes: “And as long as we’re likening Ulysses to a child, it fared much better than Joyce’s actual children. But I suppose this is consistent with the book’s theme that spiritual, not consubstantial, paternity is the important thing. What if Icarus hadn’t hurtled into the sea? What if he’d inherited his father’s inventive bent? What might he have wrought? He did hurtle into the sea, of course. But in the tricky reverse narration that impels [my and my father’s] entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt.”
I saw the musical Fun Home when I was home for a visit with my family a few years ago. It was incredible, funny, moving, and dark, just like Bechdel’s memoir. I highly recommend both.