WBR: Fun Home

In a creative writing class I took long ago, the teacher lectured us about "beer truck endings."  A beer truck ending is when the author doesn’t know how to end a story or a book, so writes something like "And then X was crossing the street and got hit by a beer truck and killed.  The end."   You can’t get away with writing a story like that, with an ending that isn’t related to what’s come before.  But, of course, in the real world, people sometimes do get hit by trucks for no good reason.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is Alison Bechdel’s exploration of her strained relationship with her father, who died after being hit by a Sunshine Bread truck, shortly after she had come out to her parents as a 20 year old college student.  Or rather, it’s her exploration of the various narratives that she tells about his life and death.  Was it a suicide in response to her announcement?  Or is that just a story she tells to convince herself that she was more significant in his life than he showed?  Did he time his death to match his life to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s?  Or was it just a freak accident?  At times she wishes that he had died of AIDS instead, because the death of a closeted gay man of AIDS in the early 1980s would have made a narrative sense in way that the death of a closeted gay man by being hit by a truck doesn’t.  The book is full of literary references, as Bechdel’s father was a high school English teacher (and funeral home director) and literature was one of the few ways that they connected. (I found myself wishing I had read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.) 

If Fun Home were fiction, it would be called a graphic novel.  It’s a memoir, so I’m not sure there’s a word for what it is.  The art style is very similar to Dykes to Watch Out For, the comic strip that Bechdel’s been drawing for 20+ years, and a few of the DTWOF characters make cameo appearances as Alison’s fellow members of the gay student union.  Photographs are reproduced as realistic drawings, and one haunting panel shows the carefully rendered negatives of the images we’ve just seen.

Fun Home is more than a bit painful to read.  Bechdel complains that her father treated his furniture like children and his children like furniture.  The acknowledgements thank her mother and brothers "for not trying to stop me from writing this book."  In a conversation with fellow cartoonist Craig Thompson, she explains that the only way she was able to write the book was that she didn’t expect anyone to see it.  (DTOWF mostly runs in gay and lesbian newspapers, and has never achieved mainstream success.  Fun Home has gotten rave reviews and Bechdel is clearly struggling a little with her newfound fame.)  And there’s no redemptive payoff at the end.  But if you read it, the story and images will stay with you.

2 Responses to “WBR: Fun Home”

  1. Moi Says:

    I’ve heard of variations on the beer truck ending before, but am kind of taken with the beer truck concept. It’s a keeper!

  2. rachel Says:

    By sheer coincidence, I just finished this yesterday. Wow. As someone from a spectacularly f’ed up family myself, I really identified with this obsessive need to understand the incomprehensible actions of my parents, to perform a kind of literary analysis of the past.
    There may not be redemptive payoff in the sense of a big epiphany dumped in your lap, but there is redemption. Not cheap, and filled with ambivalence, but it’s there. I have the feeling, by the end, that she is at peace with the unknowable, that she is no longer compelled to resolve the contradictions — love/hate, father/child, masculine/feminine, beauty/horror — but understands that sometimes the answer is BOTH, and that’s okay.

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