Monday, April 30, 2012

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

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I just have to say that, as a writer of illustration-less fiction, I will forever be envious of the graphic novel for the effortless-seeming way in which it can tie multiple threads together in a single frame. See how this bit of dialogue from one place and time is juxtaposed over this meaningful image from another place and time? See how this motif shows up in the background of this picture just as another character is practicing lines from a familiar play, lines which are suddenly charged with subtext and weighted with heretofore unanticipated meaning?

Yeah, I love that effect.

Fiction has its own ways of pulling off similar effects, but seldom so neatly and smoothly as a good graphic novel. Alan Moore does it infamously well in Watchmen and other books; as far as I'm concerned, Alison Bechdel does it as well as anyone in Fun Home.

(What, you've never heard of her? I hadn't either, until someone recommended this book to me. Turns out I might have been in the ignorant minority -- on Amazon, Fun Home is currently in the top 250 books. Not graphic novels; all the books. Even Watchmen lags behind in the 700s.)

Bechdel's graphic memoir is well worth a good, thorough read for a dozen reasons other than this one. But if you should pick it up, do pay attention to this layering of meanings and interpretations. You won't feel disappointment at seeing the magician's wires -- actually, I suspect you'll be all the more amazed at how well the trick is played.

1 comment:

  1. Once again, lonely microphoner, you are right. Bechdel's memoir makes itself a commentary on memoirs and the infallibility of memory itself. All those layers suggest to the reader an irresistible, yet unmistakable, unreliable narrator. No one really remembers the brand name of the bread on the kitchen table 15+ years ago, but in this story it is recalled and perhaps even invented to make meaning. But we forgive the author this invention because she so readily admits the limits of memory and the power of perspective over time!