Sometimes my reading takes on a sort of frantic archeological hunt-ness and I find myself tearing through books looking for the best sentence, the most aurally appealing word, the most curious idea. The next best thing ever. Or the next worst thing ever. A superlative in some respect. Something that bonks me over the head, bleeding from pores and lamenting the cruelty of only being able to read this thing for the first time once. And that there is a chance I will never again read anything better, so prepare for a lifetime of disappointment. Better find a new hobby. Maybe hiking.
Of course, this rarely happens. The majority of books are fine. Fine-ish. Just enough of everything. Next book, please.
Enter Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Game over. Time to find a nice trail, sturdy boots, and tick repellent. This is the most multi-layered, wholly complete graphic anything I’ve read or suspect I will ever read. It would stand on its own as a novel; it would stand on its own as completely wordless.
The longtime “Dykes to Watch Out For” creator’s coming-out-of-age story centers on growing up not-at-all pink and flowery in an old mansion with hug-free parents — mom is a Henry James-style character, and dad is more Gatsby. Her father Bruce dies two weeks after she reveals to her parents by letter from college that she is a lesbian and her mother reveals that her father has had a series of flings with teen-aged boys. She suspects he killed himself, purposefully stepping in front of a truck.
Bechdel tells her story in a way that keeps doubling back to this discovery about her father, and she writes the story of her life from this new perspective about what was really going on in this huge old house he was restoring just millimeters from where he grew up in a town teeming with Bechdels.
Whoa. Bechdel has got a crazy way with words and descriptions and the chops to pull off the story even without these wicked detailed panels. Second of all, whoa. The art is amazing with telling details and bits of humor. One of her best tricks is telling a story from mythology or a classic novel with her words, while including images of her family’s parallel narrative.
Your brain will explode at the consideration taken in creating this graphic memoir.