Thursday, November 4, 2010

warning: graphic (novel) content!

So, I know that I am terribly late to this particular party, but I just finished reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, which came out in 2006 and was immediately nominated for every book award ever to exist.

If you had told me, even a year ago, that I was not only going to read a graphic novel but finish it and want to read it all over again, I would have told you to get real. Graphic novels? Pshaw. A fancy name for comic books, and I grew out of comic books when I realized that Betty was never going to triumph over Veronica, back when I was about...oh...eight years old. So, year-ago me would have told you NO. I am not going to read a graphic novel. I am fully grown out of picture books.

Ah, but now, after reading Fun Home, I am converted. Bring on the graphic novels (the well-written ones, anyway -- just like I don't want to read a bad novel, I don't want to read a bad graphic novel). Pile graphic novels in front of my door and lock me in my room until I have read them all. I will do so with a happy heart and a smile on my face.

Hyperbole and triteness aside, I really did adore Fun Home. The storyline is as complex and delicious as any well-loved novel. Bechdel chronicles her somewhat tumultuous relationship with her late father, slowly discovering his homosexuality -- and her own -- over the course of the memoir. Only a few weeks after Bruce Bechdel comes out to his daughter, he is hit and killed by a truck -- whether his death was accidental or intentional is for the reader, and Bechdel herself, to figure out. What juice! What depth! Bechdel's chronology is wonderful and twisted -- we know of her father's death and potential homosexuality before the book really digs into the meat of the text. Bechdel also dialogues extensively with other texts and authors, including The Odyssey, Ulysses, The Importance of Being Earnest, Fitzgerald, Camus, and Proust, and does so gracefully.

Bechdel's skilled, thoughtful illustrations added immensely to her text. They don't just illustrate moments in the text -- although some do exactly that. They, instead, dialogue with the text itself; there's a wonderful sequence in which the text is discussing Oscar Wilde and his encoding of homosexuality in The Importance of Being Earnest, and the illustrations are of a community theater group rehearsing for the same play. Speech bubbles coming out of characters' mouths are indicative of the text above: it's hard to describe with no image, but in one panel, the caption text reads Then Wilde was tried for committing indecent acts and sent to prison while both The Importance and The Ideal Husband were playing to full houses. In the accompanying illustration, the director instructs the actors to "take it from 'please don't touch.'" Aghh! My little English major heart goes pitter-pat.

As worried as I was that the illustrations would make it seem as if I were reading a comic book, Fun Home is anything but. Some illustrations are quite adult; there are depictions of dead bodies and lesbian sex, and there is nudity throughout. And they're skillfully done; facial expressions are lovely, and Bechdel draws in different styles depending on what she's depicting -- maps, photographs, or real-life moments. And the final illustration brought a lump to my throat.

So, bringing it back to me (as always!), it's like Evan wrote a few weeks ago -- try something that you don't think you're into, be it Booksmith events or graphic novels or anything in between. I fully plan on devouring the next Bechdel material I can get my hot little hands on, and I definitely recommend Fun Home as a starter graphic novel for anyone who thinks they might be even slightly interested in the genre.


P.S. We're having a graphic novel author right here at Booksmith at the end of the month! On November 29, at 7 PM, Phoebe Potts will be reading from her new novel Good Eggs, which deals with her journey on the road to motherhood. Come in and try graphic novels out for yourself!

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