I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic twice, once in high school at my mom’s recommendation, and once after getting to Oberlin, when it was on the syllabus for my first-year seminar. I think Alison Bechdel is one of the most touted celebrity Obies because she did something that feels quintessentially Oberlin: She wrote a memoir that was not just a memoir but a graphic novel, and one about queerness at that. Not only that, but Fun Home was turned into a musical!
The book is riddled with Oberlin references. I remember yelping in the quiet section of Mudd Center upon flipping to a page where Bechdel sat reading in a womb chair — as I sat doing the very same. Other panels feature the mailroom or dorms. But I think Fun Home is commonly beloved by college students generally, not just by Obies, because its examination of family, intimacy, and self-reflection feels so specific to the experience of being a student away from home.
In my first-year seminar, we spent some time examining a page where Bechdel is in the car with her dad after she’s come out to him. Their truths are unspooling inch by inch as they both sit facing forward, in one of the most honest conversations they’ve had — it resonated with me so much in thinking about when it’s easiest to talk to my own parents. Sometimes facing forward, not looking at each other, is the most graceful way to bring honesty to bear.
While the details of Bechdel’s experience are personal to her — and have stunned readers and viewers since the project’s release — the tenderness of her voice speaks to a universal audience. When I think about Fun Home, I think about the fascination and reflection brought on by distance, and distance in particular from one’s family. I also think about Bechdel’s beautiful drawings, and the credence they gave to my feelings in my new home. Fun Home is an exercise in making meaning out of youth and family, and it does so beautifully. It also has a fantastic title.
Fun Home occupies a really special place in my heart. In this graphic novel, Alison Bechdel captures her relationship with her father in all its strange beauty and messy contradictions. It’s a deeply moving, intimate story. Subverting a linear narrative, Bechdel opts to continually revisit key memories as she processes and constructs meaning from her experiences. In particular, she returns to memories of her father in light of his apparent suicide and the revelation that he was a closeted gay man. As a newly-out lesbian grieving this loss, Bechdel must grapple with his complex legacy, as well as figure out how to move forward with her own life.
Despite the graphic novel’s serious tone, Bechdel manages to find slivers of humor in life’s darker moments. Moreover, she celebrates moments of joy; everything ranging from the thrill of romantic love to her first encounter with a butch woman and her immediate sense of recognition and identification.
Part of what brings me back to Fun Home again and again are the illustrations. Blue-gray ink washes and crisp black lines keep readers from getting too comfortable in any particular point in time, giving Bechdel the ability to seamlessly whisk you from one memory to another. There is also a remarkable attention to detail in Bechdel’s artwork — pay attention and you can identify some Oberlin landmarks casually tucked into the scenery.
If you enjoy Fun Home, check out Bechdel’s other work, especially the Dykes to Watch Out For comic strip. I’d also recommend Marbles by Ellen Forney, a graphic memoir that chronicles the author’s life with bipolar disorder and interrogates the trope of the tortured artist.