BOOK REVIEW OF FUN HOME
by Alison Bechdel
Before delving into “Fun Home”, a beautifully illustrated and written graphic non-fiction book I was both excited and apprehensive. I have known since starting the MFA program at Regis that I wanted to add graphic elements to my own thesis. Although “Fun Home” uses a traditional comic book form, which is likely not what I will do myself it helped me to think about using graphics in non-fiction in a different way. Before “Fun Home” however, I had never read any comics and wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. I wasn’t sure whether or not I would get much out of the text because of how little text there was compared to what I was accustomed to in terms of non-fiction writing. My apprehension was unfounded as I quickly learned that being a graphic non-fiction writer requires even more careful sentence construction, the most precise choice of words, because there just isn’t room for them all. This meant that in every aspect of the story, images were accompanied by a beautifully and masterfully crafted sentence such as this, “It could be argued that death is inherently absurd, and that grinning is not necessarily an inappropriate response. I mean absurd in the sense of ridiculous, unreasonable. One second a person is there, the next they’re not.” (Bechdel 47) After the last residency, I have come to appreciate and recognize the importance of a well crafted sentence as the building block of a well written essay, however this book reaffirmed the idea that it’s not about the length of a text; it’s about how many beautiful, heart-breaking, joy inducing sentences there are within a particular essay. Reading “Fun Home” made me realize that my own writing process always begins with one sentence and builds from there, I need to learn to cultivate that skill, that ability to write a really good sentence, and reading the sentences of Bechdel can help me do that.
Bechdel has mastered the art of understatement whether it is in the conversation of her father’s indiscretions or his untimely, and rather bizarre death. Throughout my reading of “Fun Home” I often felt disconnected from the story because of this, not quite able to comprehend how Bechdel could be so nonchalant about the death of her father and the relationship they shared before his death. I had such a distinctly different experience that I was almost offended by the casualness of the writing, until I realized that utilizing this method of understatement evokes a different emotion and connection from the reader. I went back to several of the pieces I had written about my father and was immediately able to point out places where my emotions got the best of me, my writing was compromised by melodrama and the crispness that is apparent in Bechdel’s “Fun Home” was completely non-existent. This is not to say that that emotion can’t be apparent in some places within my own writing, but I can’t let my emotions run away with my writing. To eliminate it entirely would compromise my relationship with my father and with his death because it was a uniquely and profoundly emotional experience, but I must also understand that to allow that emotion in often times removes the opportunity for reflection and questioning which Bechdel does wonderfully.