Happy Father’s Day

June 17th, 2006 | Uncategorized

Okay. You know that scene in Broadcast News where the William Hurt character says “What do you do when your real life exceeds your wildest fantasies?” And the Albert Brooks character says, “Keep it to yourself.” You know that scene? Right now I feel like a peculiar amalgam of both those characters. But I’m not going to keep this to myself: Fun Home  just got an excellent, if not lavish review in the New York Times Book Review.

If the theoretical value of a picture is still holding steady at a thousand words, then Alison Bechdel’s slim yet Proustian graphic memoir, “Fun Home,” must be the most ingeniously compact, hyper-verbose example of autobiography to have been produced. It is a pioneering work, pushing two genres (comics and memoir) in multiple new directions, with panels that combine the detail and technical proficiency of R. Crumb with a seriousness, emotional complexity and innovation completely its own.

Well, the R. Crumb thing is a bit over the top. But I can’t tell you what a strange sensation it is to get all this establishment recognition after spending my whole career on the fringes of acceptability. I feel depressurized or something, like I’m getting the bends.

23 Responses to “Happy Father’s Day”

  1. Olivier says:

    Pressurized from being “on the fringes of acceptability”? What a strange comment coming from you. You were always a huge hit with you community, what more could you ask for? Apart from the likes of Clancy and Grisham all writing is niche writing.

  2. Well, yeah. The fringes were quite cozy and comfortable. And yes, it’s true that a person can’t (or at any rate shouldn’t) ask for more than the kind of community support I’ve had over the years. But part of my fringeness, for me, involved a self-definition built on resisting or dismissing the mainstream. It’s as if I’ve been pushing against a door for twenty years, and all of a sudden someone whipped it open.

  3. Deb says:

    And what’s on the other side of the door? Accolades (spelling?) and perhaps a clearer view of you, the community and all of us who have been cheering you on while working in the trenches of the fringes. Congrats on the New York Times book review! You go ahead and keep asking for EVERYTHING you want plus some! You deserve it!

  4. Sophie says:

    Ooooh, I’m so proud. As the first out bi-dyke in my local community, I believe I’ve read absolutely everything you’ve drawn so far, and i cant wait to get my French paws on Fun Home. Gosh, here comes a tear. Whodathunk. Can you believe “The Rose” is playing in my headphones as I browse your website in my father’s house in Southern France? Can you believe my Dad is a closeted transvestite? Aaah, life is the wonderful thing.

  5. Jess says:

    This is related to a question I’ve been formulating, something I’ve thought I might ask when you visit Madison (and huzzah about that – Room of One’s Own is a great community resource!). Reading posts by those who’ve been at some of your recent readings, I’ve noticed several people express surprise at experiencing an apparently unusual sense of community. It seems some of your fans are experiencing a kind of cultural whiplash related to your own – a clash between broader acceptance and a lingering sense of isolation – though perhaps it’s a mirror of yours (you suddenly experiencing greater openness, fans coming to terms with lingering senses of isolation, thrown into relief by moments of community at your readings). I identify with this so much, and have wondered whether, in some twisted way, my greater sense of isolation is in part *due* to generally greater cultural acceptance of queers – I am so aware of the utter lack of recognition that I experience when seeing another dyke on the street, something I relished in the ‘old days’ of just 10 years ago, and I wonder whether it’s because there’s a perception of somehow not needing that implicit connection any more. Anyway, it’s not quite a question so much as an inquiry about your thoughts on the status of dyke/queer community these days since you are and have been a keen observer of such things (and not a question about Fun Home, but about your observations of queer communities as you travel around because of the book).

  6. brynn says:

    Bravo on the well-deserved accolades!!!

    I’m so happy for you! Gives me faith that (at least sometimes) truth and justice win out in the end. You so totally deserve the recognition after all these years of truly outstanding, original work, culminating in Fun Home.

    Now, if my copy of the book would only arrive in the mail!

  7. Erin says:

    The celebratory NY Times review was perfect, and I’m so glad a journalist at the Times was as amazed by the number of big words as I was. In fact, now that I’ve absorbed the Fun Home I feel like I can not only go into the big bad heterosexual world knowing that my lesbian vantage point might one day be seen as universal, but I also think I have a better shot at getting some really high marks on my SAT verbal section. Unfortunately I was so completely engrossed by your book, that the evening I bought it I blew off my math homework and instead stayed up very late reading and looking from cover-to-cover. So I flunked my last calculus test of the year. Thanks a lot.

  8. Suzanonymous says:

    The review was very good. The author even went to the PA town and found that the house was up for sale.

    Mmm, up for sale huh?.. let’s see..

    I cannot believe how much a person can find out online. I feel somewhat inappropriate looking this up and passing it on. This a generational thing maybe.. Fun Home is very public after all, and the real estate listings are, too.

    That listing includes 10 little photos of the house, inside and out, and the property. Some of the interiors were very impressive (I found the kitchen walls a bit much, though). I can see why you were impressed by your father’s restoration efforts, Alison.

  9. Anonymous says:

    this is creepy… somehow.

  10. Susan says:

    It’s beyond perfect that the reviewer used Fun Home as a map.

    And he’s really right, I think, about the pioneering nature of the book. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and one of the reasons that’s true is that it gives off kind of unexpected glints from a lot of different directions that I feel like I need to grapple with as I do my work as a novelist. Makes it, in some ways, another kind of map.

    Sorry to hear about the bends. But what a beautiful thing, with the decades-long slow build, that your work is getting acknowledged on this scale.

  11. David says:

    The NY Times excerpt you’ve posted gets at what I was gushingly, and awkwardly, trying to tell you in the autograph line at Seattle’s University Bookstore. You’ve created a graphic memoir that goes beyond the expositional autobio of Pekar and everyone after him — your simultaneous narrative threads, jumps in time, and replays of key scenes do more than any ‘sequential art’ I can think of to recreate actual human memory. Fun Home is a memoir that begins to approach the depth and complexity of a (prose) novel. In other words, YOU ROCK!

  12. Susan says:

    All writing is niche writing?
    What are you talking about?

    This isn’t simply a matter of writing to a niche audience.
    It’s about being a member of an oppressed and oft depised minority and of being pushed into a niche whether you like it or not…about writers who had to do what they had to do to get to their audience. It’s about groups of people who had to form their own publishing companies because the mainstream world discriminated against their “niche” and would never go near a manuscript with the word “lesbian” or heaven forbid “dyke” in the title. (unless it was porn)

    There have been plenty of writers of plenty of books that have been published by mainstream publishers that have gotten wide recognition and lots of press in the time that Alison Bechdel has been a working author, but, you know what? She wasn’t one of them.

    C’mon…anyone who has lived as a member of an oppressed minority…or any working artist…knows exactly what Alison is saying. She should revel in her mainstream acceptance, in reaching a wider audience and having people say, hey, that’s good work. (Not, that’s good work for a lesbian.) I mean, that’s the friggin New York Times Book Review, DUDE! That’s not a niche thing…if you’re a writer that’s THE thang!!

    What Alison has accomplished here is a testimony not only to her tremendous talent but to her willingness to put herself on the page…boldly, honestly and directly. She has every right to celebrate the wider acceptance of her work. I’m thrilled to see it happening for such a talented and humble woman.

    Alison, uhm, you go girl.
    I’ll see you in Philly.
    I’ll be the self righteous dyke with the Febreze
    and the clean boxer shorts.

  13. Robin says:

    Bloody brilliant!

    That’s a scarily good review, and it’s about time that you were recognised for your work.

    Have a virtual pat on the back.

  14. Bill Burns says:

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that this newfound celebrity will mean some nice hardcover editions of the DTWOF archives.

  15. Deb says:

    *Cheering Susan on in the balcony*

    Hey, you said it all. As a counselor/caseworker for the mentally ill/drug addicted population, I may not understand all the nuances of the literary world but I DO understand oppression as a dyke and a woman……not only from society but from even my own counseling community and personal family. Alison has taken another step for all of us, not from a niche but a world position for all to see! The New York Times???? Awesome!!!!! Any way I can support her, her work and the work of all of us still focused on helping to give the oppressed a voice, just let me know. I have been doing this work for 30 years and to know Alison is finally getting the credit and accolades she deserves not only from the large public audience but from her perofessional peers, makes me smile to no end!

  16. Steve Lieber says:

    What a great review. Congrats!

    A spooky thing: the real estate website had a popup ad in which a man’s silhouette floated up over the page, obscuring the photo of the house and flogging something as the perfect gift for Father’s Day.

    It was a tremendous pleasure to meet you at the reading in Portland, and the book is wonderful.

  17. Pam Isherwood says:

    Unless they have got the wrong number of zeroes, that house could be a straight $$$ swap for my one-bedroom flat in Tottenham, North London. Could I commute from there?

  18. Duncan says:

    I’ve been arguing the “universality” issue online recently, with a straight reviewer of a Korean film about a gay homeless man. (It’s called “Road Movie,” in case anyone’s curious.) I agree with both Olivier and Susan to some extent, though I’d argue that Clancy and Grisham are “niche writing” too: what could be more narrow and parochial than the worlds they inhabit? Virtually all art begins in the particular, the specific. The trouble is that dominant groups complacently think of themselves as “universal” and everyone else as “niche” or some such, and when some dominant group member praises work by an underdog group member as “universal,” it’s a backhanded insult.

    I’m glad to see that Alison is getting the recognition she deserves, and a review in the New York Times will give her greater visibility, more sales, and that’s a good thing. But it won’t give her or her work more legitimacy; she already has that. She’s already had recognition from her professional peers. The oppressed will never have a voice in the New York Times. The function of corporate media is to contain such voices; the Times has always done so — does anyone else remember the hatchet job it did by assigning Bruce Bawer to review Urvashi Vaid’s “Virtual Equality”? Alison could have won a lot more visibility long ago by being less specifically lesbian. It’s a tribute to her courage, persistence, and brilliance that she chose to do what seemed right to her, rather than to The New York Times. If the Times recognizes the value of her work, fine (as I said): the more people who become aware of it, the better. But we queers are part of “the large public audience.” How easily some of us forget that.

    Probably more people will be bothered by the big words and literary allusions in “Fun Home” than by the sexual material, which is a small bit by comparison. I noticed several reviewers on Medusa.com — sorry, Amazon! — who complained that the book was too hard for them. It’s been odd to me that some people discovered new books through the references, because those books Alison devoured during her coming out were touchstones for bookish queers of her generation, and of mine before hers. (To say nothing of Ulysses, The Catcher in the Rye, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Great Gatsby …!)

    Back in her Coming Out Story (published in The Indelible Alison Bechdel), Alison told the reader that an early age, she knew she was different from other girls; at first, she just thought it was because she was smarter. I think she was right the first time.

  19. cybercita says:

    i was thrilled to read that review by sean wilsey, whose own memoir, about growing up the child of society people in san francisco, enthralled me last year when i read it.

  20. Susan says:

    Thanks Duncan for further illumination.
    I agree with you wholeheartedly.
    and also,
    just reading this week’s rerun (vintage?) strip…
    doncha just love that Raffi says…
    “don’t move Mo, the dinosaur pride parade is on your butt.”

    I cherish how our kids, in their innocence and immediacy, reflect back and reveal us…how they can, with seeming ease, exist so fully and elegantly in the present. I can’t imagine anything more important than lying still so you don’t knock the dinosaur pride parade off of your butt…or anything more universal.

  21. Jen says:

    Duncan said: “It’s been odd to me that some people discovered new books through the references, because those books Alison devoured during her coming out were touchstones for bookish queers of her generation, and of mine before hers.”

    Ah, but not all of us are bookish! And those of us who are, well … I didn’t start to come out until I was out of college & working in software. The “lesbian lit” I devoured was Bingo, Venus Envy, and Dykes To Watch Out For – with a dose of The Best Little Boy In The World and Stranger At The Gate from the guys.

    I guess you can file me with Lois as “never read Mary Daly”!

    As for Duncan’s other list “Ulysses, The Catcher in the Rye, The Myth of Sisyphus, The Great Gatsby” ~ I’ve read The Odyssey, The Great Gatsby, and I’m familiar enough with Sisyphus to get the references. I’d also seen The Importance ~ I read it on Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/844) one afternoon after I finished Fun Home.

    That said, I did laugh when I read the page in Fun Home where Alison’s dad handed her the Colette book so she could read about “the whole scene”. My interest in the Lord Peter Wimsey books led me to the LordPeter Yahoo group, which led me to Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey, which uses the Lord Peter books “to understand the years between the wars – the crumbling of the privileged aristocracy, the rise of democracy, and the expanding struggle of women for equality.” Now I’m bouncing between two biographies of Sayers….

  22. Duncan says:

    Jen wrote, “Ah, but not all of us are bookish!” Don’t I know it! We intellectuals and bookworms are the true “third sex,” outcast and despised by all. But it’s in my genes! Would I *choose* a lifestyle like this?

    I don’t object to people’s reading Rita Mae — I have too! and Mary Daly! — though she is one of the worst writers publishing today, right down there with Dan Brown. But it still boggles me that even bookish gay people didn’t range any further than her and the dreary Andrew Tobias (The Most Boring Little Boy in the World). Maybe it’s a generational thing? But most of the gay men I met when I was coming out were just as incurious. It was lesbians, and lesbian writers, who shared my interest in the same kinds of books Alison read during her coming-out. Jill Johnston’s “Lois Lane Is a Lesbian” series in the Village Voice, in early 1971, inspired me to come out myself.

  23. Stephen Frug says:

    I was thrilled to see Fun Home get a good review. But I was actually irritated by some of the reviewers snarky and ill-informed comments about graphic novels as a form.

    Rant here if anyone’s interested: