Time sure flies when you're having fun! Which has been the case with my brief dalliance with graphic novels. I signed up, timidly, to read three this year for the Graphic Novel Challenge. And even though this novel, "Fun Home", theoretically wraps up that challenge, I know this is not the end of graphic novels for me. I'm hooked.
I remember reading all about Alison Bechdel in Entertainment Weekly several years ago when this book was originally published. Several fellow bloggers have since reviewed it, and it seemed like a no-brainer in my pursuit of graphic novel education. It is called a "tragicomic". Which in hindsight, seems to well describe "Stitches" too. Bechdel, with open heart and open-book mentality, tells us about her childhood.
Her younger years did have their high points, but overall, Alison and her two younger brothers lived under a storm cloud of dysfunction. Their mother and father emotionally detached from each other, their father's obsession with restoring their old home and filling it with beautiful antiques, and of course the family business of running a funeral home (called the Fun Home tongue-in-cheek by the family).
Everything starts to spiral downward when, within a two-week time period during Alison's college years, Alison's mother asks her father for a divorce, Alison reveals to her parents that she is a lesbian, and her father dies from a suspicious accident that could have been a suicide. Was her mother to blame? Was she to blame? Or was this an event that was long in coming?
Alison spends a majority of the book reflecting back on the difficulty in coming to terms with her sexuality and her awakening, the emotional distance between her and her father, and her attempt to bridge the gap through the love of literature. She also attempts to understand and make peace with skeletons in her father's closet, and empathize and even perhaps forgive him for his demons.
The illustrations are much different - more detail and less drama - than Stitches. While the drawings are good, they are not at all the highlight of the book. The beauty really lies in the prose, which is literary, intelligent, insightful. There is also beauty in Alison's refreshing, no-holds-barred honesty about a number of difficult and controversial issues in her life. While tell-all books about childhood trauma are a dime-a-dozen, reading it and SEEING it illustrated are two different experiences. This can't have been an easy project for her to undertake.
I feel it bears mentioning that some of the pictures depict masturbation and lesbian sex. It never seems vulgar, but is for mature audiences. Don't leave it lying around for the kids to read!
4 out of 5 stars