Review: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel with my book club in our second meeting in June where the genre was LGBTQ+ authors. I have not heard or seen the musical and my knowledge of Bechdel was limited to her creation of The Bechdel Test.

Fun Home was a searing memoir about discovering yourself, discovering the truth, and trying to reconcile grief, disappointment, and empathy. It would be too simplistic to say that it’s a story of a woman recounting her journey into adulthood and discovering her sexual identity as a lesbian in the 80s. It is also too simplistic to say that it is about a woman discovering her father’s own closeted sexuality and how it shaped and informed her own relationship with homosexuality and herself. It’s hard for me to really put into words what this book does or communicates because it manages to share so much in a way that doesn’t make the reader feel overwhelmed, even while reading through the author feeling that way. There were aspects of the story that resonated for me and aspects that I could only appreciate from the outside looking in. This book didn’t feel like it was written for me, or for you, or for anyone. It felt like it was written for Bechdel as a way of processing her grief and confusion and pain and the reader is the lucky witness, all the luckier if there is something that they can share and feel seen by.

The graphic novel is visually captivating and the words and images matched in tone. There were references to literary works by Proust and Joyce and this also felt like a way in for the reader if they could connect with those works. I knew on a surface level about some of the themes and how they related to the overarching story but I’m sure it was just another aspect that would have hit home harder if I had a familiarity with them.

This is not a light read, though it was at times humorous. I remember distinctly that once I finished reading it I sat in silence for a moment, walked to the kitchen and squirted a bunch of reddiwhip in my mouth, and then continued sitting in silence for a bit longer. I want to read Bechdel’s sequel graphic novel about her mother, Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama, but I decided to wait after reading this before taking that on one so I could read something lighter to space the two out. I think one of my reading goals for next year will be to read that one and we’ll see how it goes. In the end, I do recommend this book, but be aware that even if you don’t feel that you hit any of the traditional boxes to connect with or be deeply affected by this book, the themes of family secrets and fraught parent-child relationships are widely applicable so don’t go retraumatizing yourself willy nilly.