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Review of

Alison Bechdel 's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Houghton Mifflin, 2007

By Porter Shreve

I must be one of the few writers under forty-five whose childhood desk didn’t spill over with comic books, or whose work doesn’t find room for Super Goat men, amazing adventurers, or families that resemble the Fantastic Four. So I’ve been late to catch on to the graphic narrative craze – okay, perhaps a little reluctant. But if Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is even remotely representative of the genre then the scales have fallen from my eyes. This memoir by widely syndicated comic strip writer Alison Bechdel (of Dykes to Watch Out For) is not only impeccably drawn, but also full of taut, lyrical, highly literate language, clearly the work of someone who spent her childhood in books. Her father divides his work schedule between running a local funeral home, teaching high school English and obsessively restoring the Victorian house where the family lives in small town Pennsylvania. “I grew to resent the way my father treated his furniture like children and his children like furniture,” Bechdel writes. One reason for her bookishness is that it gives her access to the codified language of her repressed parents, and as a writer she uses this language to show connections between her own family and the lives of writers and characters in literature: Fitzgerald’s self-destruction mirrors her father’s, Isabel Archer’s failed dreams are too much like her mother’s, and her reading and rereading of Ulysses contains many clues about her father’s closeted homosexuality and its consequences. “His shame inhabited our house as pervasively and invisibly as the aromatic musk of aging mahogany,” Bechdel writes. And shame may or may not have killed him, when one afternoon at age 44 he steps in front of a Sunbeam bread truck. Suicide or accident? The author has her opinions, and it’s this sorting out and coming to something like understanding that makes Fun Home so heartbreaking and artful, a graphic memoir that could have been told no other way.

Porter Shreve is the author of the novels The Obituary Writer and Drives Like a Dream. His third novel, When the White House Was Ours, will be published next year. Co-editor of the anthology Contemporary Creative Nonfiction: I & Eye, he directs the creative writing program at Purdue University.