Thursday, June 25, 2009

Fun Home (Alison Bechdel)

The opposite of Leviathan in almost every way. This is the wordiest, most literary graphic novel I’ve ever read, which is paced with a genius you might not suspect from reading Bechdel’s comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For. Since she spent the years leading up to writing Fun Home on her fictitious lesbian comic strips, a niche genre if ever there was one, she’s developed a sense for writing however she damn well pleases, and the result is glorious. She doesn’t dumb down a single phrase, thesaurus a single hundred-dollar word, or string sequences together in an easy-to-understand manner.

It’s uninhibited art at its best.

Autobiographies ususally unfold chronologically, a by-product of the emotional source that drives a person to write an autobiography: nostalgia and fear of death/impermanence. Bechdel, instead, recounts her childhood, the realization of her homosexuality, and the accidental (possibly suicidal) death of her secretly gay father, in a way that’s almost like flipping through a scatterbrained photo album. Not to suggest there's a lick of carelessness in their arrangement: for Bechdel, the autobiography is a way to make sense of a mystery. Not just the reasons (or lack of reason) behind her father's death, but the thoughts and motives of everyone in her life, including herself. Everyone locked in their own, private emotional closet.

The irony of the title is drawn out in the humourless expressions of her family members, the perpetually austere locales, and the parade of unfortunate souls who enter the Bechdel family parlour to mourn their loved ones. And Bechdel evokes it all with a clear-handed grace, mindful of the balance between white space and the symbolic clutter that make up our lives.

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