Alison Bechdel narrates her complex relationship with her father in Fun Home, a graphic novel in which she tastefully articulates her thoughts and emotions through text and imagery. Many people would argue that graphic novels do not truly belong in the “literary” category. However, Bechdel does a superb job at proving that graphic novels can provide just as much of a spiritual journey as any other novel written by the most prestigious authors. On the surface, Fun Home is a memoire Bechdel uses as a cathartic method of explaining her bond with her father and the effect it had on how she explored her sexuality. If you take a closer look, this book reaches a much wider audience who may be suffering from a variety of mental health issues, starting to question their sexuality or gender, and/or have trouble relating to their parents. And that is why most people can relate to Fun Home.
Alison Bechdel accurately depicts what having a mental illness truly feels like. She reveals her struggles dealing with her over compulsive disorder (OCD), where she felt the need to repeat certain actions such as counting the number of drops form the leaking faucet and making it stop at an even number. Bechdel’s drawings illustrate how she’d have to do certain hand gestures or movement before she could have peace of mind, and the visual aid is so effective. You can see the expression of frustration and shame on her face as she repeats the incantation in front of her brothers and has to dress and undress for the third time. I also love how she manages to capture the essence of isolation and loneliness in her drawing on page 134, where her brothers and parents are all dispersed throughout the home refusing to engage. Most teenagers nowadays struggle with the feeling that they’re going through everything on their own, that nobody could possibly understand, and Bechdel’s art proves that mental illness is something they can overcome or at least learn how to deal with it.
Fun Home tackles another problem most teenagers face at some point, questioning their sexuality. Bechdel was lucky enough to have parents who didn’t shun her for coming out to them as a lesbian, but growing up, Bechdel’s father tried to make her appear more feminine. I would argue that it was because of his insecurities and the fear that people would not treat her the way she deserved to because of the discrimination he had to face himself. Bechdel’s mother also had a hard time accepting her daughter’s sexuality and tried to pass it off as a phase. It is hard enough to accept who you are and discover more about your sexuality, but to have your parents question your identity for you can be a whole other challenge. In the end Bechdel unexpectedly starts to connect with her father on a deeper emotional level as they become more open about their sexuality and how they expressed themselves when they were younger. Although it was far from a perfect relationship, Bechdel was able to stay true to who she was and still have a supportive family. And isn’t that what we all aim for?
Overall, this book has been an inspiration to many, including myself. Bechdel narrates her life in a way that we can all relate to in different aspects of our everyday lives. Fun Home was anything but fun; it was a stage where problems and secrets were unraveled. But it proves that relationships can be complex and can be in a grey area rather than having everything in black and white. No matter how many obstacles Bechdel went through, she found a way to come out stronger than before.