28 December 2008

The fun of Fun Home

I realize I'm just about the last person to read Alison Bechdel's 2006 graphic memoir, FUN HOME, and as such I will not sing its general praises -- for so many people have done so more eloquently than I, and I agree with them. This book is fantastic, and will completely reestablish your faith in the genre of memoir. It takes a fairly weighty subject -- Bechdel's family history, including the infidelity and eventual suicide of her father -- and comments on it with an unsentimental grace. The fact that it's a graphic novel adds a degree-of-difficulty factor which cannot be understated.

But I come to praise a particular aspect of the book, which is the way it uses and juggles some pretty weighty source material alongside the story. There are memoirs I want to return to more than I will return to FUN HOME, but I can't think of any others which reference Proust and Joyce and make them relevant to the plot in a completely unpretentious way. Bechdel is self-conscious about comparing her father to the unnamed narrator of Proust's IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME and her own coming-out journey to a book she read the last semester in college, ULYSSES. Yet she pulls it off, and the result is like a special effect on the page.

Just from reading her short section which mentions Proust, I wanted to go and read Proust again, and not just the sections I had to read in college. She makes these comparisons without diminishing their sources at all or inflating her book's significance, which only heightens the scenes as they are set down. Nor are these obscure "English jock"* references; I fully believe that someone with no knowledge of Stephen Dedalus would be able to understand what she's getting at.

Please read this book; it's just as good as everyone has been saying and I feel stupid for holding out this long.

*Property of college friend M., who gave me this term which I have been happy to use and re-use over the years to denote a hard-core enthusiasm for literature and specifically the higher study of such.

1 comment:

Emily said...

not the last person! i'm reading it for my book club now.