Monday, November 3, 2008

When Life Goes to the Comics with Bechdel

I just read Alison Bechdel’s memoir in a graphic novel, Fun Home. It is as obsessive as a (visual) villanelle. The novel keeps cycling back to the moment when her father's life ends in an accident that could equally well be a suicide. Her father, her family, were clearly a painful collision of secrets and surfaces. It stunned me. It is well written, well drawn, and above all brave.

For me, with my own mother who died at 43 (Bechtel's father was 44) when I was 18 (she was 19) this memoir comes the closest to capturing the pleasure and terror of having an artistic narcissistic closeted self-destructive teacher parent. We had parents that both flunked parenting 101 and still manged to pass on their capacity for hard work, aesthetics, and enthusiasms. Fun Home was the equal of autobiographies (with no pictures) such as Mary Karr's funny and sharp The Liar's Club. It shared something of Robert Coover's cycling through plot while exploring meta-fiction in his Briar Rose. I could go on. It was good in a way that startled me, given my mother. I have explored memoir in my first book of poetry, but Bechtel's homage shows me there is far more to say and more ways to say it. If I chose to go there. If I dare.

Ms. Bechtel made this fan very happy by thanking me and writing "'obsessive as a (visual) villanelle!' I think that's my favorite thing anyone's ever said about Fun Home!" See, not all gushing fan mail goes unanswered.

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