Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Are You My Mother was a great read – I blogged about it here. And immediately put her previous book, Fun Home, on hold at the library. It came, I read, and I don’t know. I liked the Mother one better.
Fun Home is Bechdel’s reflection on her childhood, growing up in the family business (a funeral home), to an amazingly mismatched pair of parents. Her mother is a smart, talented actress and musician. Her smart, handsome father was an English teacher into home decorating and a yen for teenage boys. Together, the couple raised Alison and her brothers, and this memoir is filtered through the lens of her father’s probable suicide.
It has much in common with Are You My Mother?, not the least being the author’s voice. Bechdel is smart, wryly funny, with an undercurrent of frustrated detachment. She has a strong desire to connect, but it never seems to quite work. Or at least, not easily and not consistently.
Of course, much of this story relates to Alison’s recognition that she’s not like other kids and her growing attraction to women. With pretty much zero sexual experience, she explores her lesbianism through books. Literature is one interest she shares with her father, and after coming out, she alludes to her father’s reading recommendation as they are traveling together. Not surprisingly, most of the conversation goes unsaid.
Ultimately, Bechdel comes to grips with the critical role her father played in her life, while acknowledging his imperfections. It was a satisfying ending, and felt true.
As with Mother, Fun Home was engaging and the visual style was interesting without being distracting. The themes of the books are similar. In discussing the book with a friend and trying to pin down just what it was that I preferred about Mother, he wondered if perhaps it was simply the order that I read them in – the first book of a type always being fresher and perhaps more compelling. I think there is something to that.
More important, I think, is that I could totally relate to Bechdel’s issues with her mom. What woman can’t relate to trying to please her mother and not measuring up? To wanting to be the center of her mother’s universe instead of a side story? To being too critical or feeling too criticized? These issues are pretty universal. On the other hand, the issues with her father were pretty much out of my experience. Her father was not like other dads. In reading Fun Home, I empathized with her experience, but I didn’t relate as strongly.
Still, comparing two good books to the detriment of one of them is not, strictly speaking, all that fair. It’s like chocolate toffee vs. English toffee. Why criticize? I personally prefer the chocolate, but they’re both well worth eating.