This is the fourth installment in my series of Graphic Novel Reviews, in which I will publish a review each Tuesday until I run out of books. This is based, in part, on a class that I am currently taking about the graphic novel. Read the next one here (to come next week) or go to last week’s review.
Funhome: A Family Tragicomedy has been the most literary and poignant graphic novel I’ve read thus far. This is a nonfiction story about Alison Bechdel’s coming of age with a fairly dysfunctional family while realizing her own sexuality — and that of her father. This sometimes tragic, sometimes wry novel is filled with literary illusions, dense verse, and meditations on sexuality, feminism, family dynamics, and human nature.
This is both an analysis as well as a review; I have tried to keep spoilers to a minimum, but they are still present in the following paragraphs.
One of the ways this works so well as both a novel and a graphic novel is the manipulation of time in order to tell the full story. We move from Alison’s childhood to the announcement to her father’s death, perhaps suicide, years later. This is done seamlessly without clunky indicators that one would have to have in a purely text form. By including illustrations, the reader is easily clued into the change of time, making a complex story telling tool instantly accessible. This also kept aspects of the story shrouded, instead of making everything immediately visible, readers learn about aspects about the two characters and their father-daughter relationship.
I found it so poignant because so many difficult themes were touched upon. She shows a vision of homosexuality that religious bigots would like to use to vilify gay men, but she avoids the temptation of making her father out to be a bad person, rather that he was deeply conflicted. He grew up in a time and place that would not have allowed him to be himself. He tried to be a good father. And in the end, Alison accepts both her father’s flaws and strengths.
One of my favorite parts was the description of her own journey to discovering that she was a lesbian. It was almost sensual, her language rich and effective. The pro-woman stance that she and her girlfriend took made me want to run out and buy radical feminist writing. We get to see the author grow up, which ends up being a real treat, and a positive point among the tragedy that falls and has fallen upon her family.
The rise of Alison happens as spectacularly as the fall of her mother. Mrs. Bechdel knew that her husband was gay and their fights took on new meaning when readers found out he was sleeping with underage boys. The devastation she must have felt was palpable, but she stayed with him for a very long time. She did this for her children, no doubt. Mrs. Bechdel was the unsung hero of this novel, and her quiet stoicism throughout does not detract from what a bit impact she has to the story.
This graphic novel will make you cry. If you’ve ever had a family, or were a child, or have a child, this will pull on your strings. I couldn’t put it down, but had to recover for a time afterwards. This is no kid book, this is a novel that happens to have pictures. I would recommend this to anyone who does not take the art of the graphic novel seriously, because it’s a true work of art.