Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is an analysis and presentation of her childhood and growth to adulthood. Her discovery of her father runs hand-in-hand with her own self discovery, and creates a unique parallel of duality and hidden identity between father and daughter. As she grows up in the house her father obsesses over, and spends her free time helping at the family funeral home, her limited understanding of the functionality of her family remains remarkably undisturbed.
The story is told through chapters and sections that seem chronological on the surface. However, it becomes quickly apparent that each chapter wraps around the others, new stories unfolding in new chapters, not because of the chronology, but because of Alison’s ability to link related events across time.
The web that is her story reads very organically. The structure of a strictly chronological story would not have matched the story she was attempting to tell. Instead, the reader is pulled along, back and forth through Alison’s life as she learns new things about her family. She takes advantage of 20-20 hindsight to tell her story, and does not give away any discovery or surprise by presenting it chronologically as opposed to in time with her own discoveries.
Fun Home is subtitled “A family tragicomic”, and the whole thing is a title very befitting the story. Though it is explained fairly early on in the story where the term “fun home” comes from, the title is also indicative of a much larger, vaguely cynical, reflective approach to Alison’s life and family. Similarly, the term “tragicomic” holds that cynicism, though more blatantly, but still maintains an almost humorous, subtle veneer like the title “Fun Home”.
As the title, “fun home” becomes a phrase that seems to be making fun of itself and the story as a whole. Not to say that Alison is presenting a childhood spent in pain or disrepair and so openly mocks it, but rather that there are deep-seated ironies that compose much of her life as presented in the comic. These ironies are being displayed in the title, but not necessarily mocked. The emotion throughout the comic is not one that benefits from mockery, nor does it call for mockery in the first place. Alison avoids this by carefully balancing the strain and uncertainty of her family with a certain small but strong level of good natured fun that runs through her childhood.
Fun Home is a unique display of family dynamic and the behaviors people choose to present or choose to hide. It is a distinctly human story, and one that even sharing none of the experiences of Alison Bechdel, was simple and easy to step into. It was easy to be carried away by the lofty, academic language and refined images. The entire story has an air of careful, almost obsessive, education to it. This does not overwhelm or overshadow Alison’s personality or the uncertainty with which she tread into her adulthood. Instead, it enhances the experience and atmosphere of the book.