On the very first page of this stunning, pathbreaking graphic memoir, a father is reading a book to his child as the child is about to launch herself on his body with her arms stretched as a playful act. He keeps the book aside on the bed where he’s lying and it’s a copy of Anna Karenina. We know what Bechdel is trying to tell us right at the outset. Welcome to her unhappy family that you’ll find was unhappy in its own devastating way.
Fun Home is a reflection of the cruelties subjected by parents towards their children, married people towards each other, and the heartaches we allow ourselves to experience because we lay our souls bare in front of our families without caution. Like a movie where none of the players are villains, but everyone is guilty.
One of the saddest images in this book arises when the author notices how her mother’s face changed over time on her passport – one photograph taken from the early years of marriage and another taken eight years later… she notes: “IN A PASSPORT PHOTO TAKEN EIGHT YEARS LATER, MY MOTHER’S LUMINOUS FACE HAS GONE DULL.”
It's also about the incredible truths of our lives that we painstakingly hide from others while suffering in solitude, and the lies we tell ourselves to ensure that the predictable course of living that’s already decided for us by our environment remains undisturbed. And yet Alison Bechdel invents scope for humour and discoveries in this narrative, bestowing her protagonists – that includes herself – with both flaws and phrases of endearment.
The “Fun” in the book’s title comes from the word “Funeral” – we meet the Bechdel family when the author’s father is in charge of running a funeral parlour that was started by his grandfather. We later get to know through Alison’s coming out story that her father has lived as a closeted gay man all his life, grappling with family, parenting, and his own identity.
By the time we have turned the final page, we learn about a fraught relationship that a daughter shared with her dad. But we are also left with the thought how we often fail to understand our parents because we only get to meet them as gatekeepers; missing the burial grounds behind them that have been their own lives, which they have been trying to keep us out of.