Fun Home: Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Memoir

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Fun Home by Alison Bechdel about? How does this graphic memoir talk about Alison’s childhood and her relationships with her family members?

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is about Alison’s childhood and tackles themes of sexuality, sexual repression, and mental health. The book also examines her difficult relationship with her father, who died by apparent suicide.

Read more about Fun Home, Alison Bechdel, and her groundbreaking graphic memoir.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home is a graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel. It follows Alison through the early years of her life as she navigates her relationship with her closeted father, discovers her own sexuality, and grapples with her father’s supposed suicide. Told in a non-linear fashion, the book touches on the themes of gender identity, sexual orientation, dysfunctional households, suicide, and literature as a way of connecting to life. 

(Shortform note: because this is a graphic novel, this summary pulls from both the book’s text and illustrations.)

Life at Home

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel grew up in an old, Victorian home in Beech Creek, Pennsylvania with her two brothers, mother, and father. Her father, a notably distant man, put more energy into working on their home than he did focusing on his family. When they first bought the house, it was falling apart, but he was determined to restore it to its former glory. He had an affinity for restoration, and, often, forced his family to help him with his projects. 

The Bechdel Funeral Home

Alison’s great-grandfather founded the Bechdel Funeral Home. Alison’s father took over the family business after his father had a heart attack. Due to the low population, the funeral home did not make enough to pay the bills, so he took on a second position at the local high school teaching English.

Alison and her brothers dubbed the funeral home the “Fun Home” because they usually had more fun in the funeral home than in their actual home. They played with the chair trolleys, the flower stands, and the smelling salts as they invented worlds of their own. Their grandmother lived in the back and the business was in the front. They would often spend the night at the “Fun Home” and have their grandmother tell them stories about their father’s childhood. 

Sexuality and Marriage in Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel began to explore her sexuality in college. She checked out books from the library that discussed homosexuality and focused on the stories of lesbians. Her studies were both informational and erotic. She joined the gay union at her university and began dating her classmate, Joan.

She came out as lesbian in a letter to her family. Alison’s mother didn’t respond well and voiced her disapproval. Soon after, she revealed that her father was having affairs with men. Alison felt as if she had gone from the hero in her own story to the side character in her father’s drama. Though she hoped her coming out would allow her to distance herself from her family because of her unique identity, she was pulled back into their lives because of the realization that she and her father had an unspoken connection that linked the two together.

Her Parents’ Marriage

Alison’s parents almost never showed affection for one another and fighting was the norm in the household. Her father would take his anger out by destroying books and throwing things. Adding fuel to the fire, Alison’s father would bring some of his male students home, give them books, and offer them alcohol. He often focused on these boys more than he focused on his own family. In one instance, he forgot to pick up his own son from Cub Scouts because he was too busy drinking and chatting with a high school student he brought into his library.

New York City and School

While on a trip to NYC in 1976, a 15-year old Alison saw the city in a new light. She was traveling with her father and brothers to take part in the bicentennial celebrations. They stayed with a family friend who lived in Greenwich Village, a well-known LGBT community. During her time there, she participated in activities that introduced her to members of the LGBT community and exposed her to LGBT stories.

Years later, Alison moved to New York. She believes that, had her father not died when he did, there was a good chance he’d have died shortly after with the emergence of the AIDS crisis. This is because the LGBT community in New York was the center of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s, and Alison’s father had a tendency to go out at night and sleep with men from that community when he visited the city. 

Literature and Education

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel and her father didn’t begin to develop a close relationship until she developed the ability to discuss literature in an intellectual way. When Alison was in high school, she was assigned to her father’s English class. During this time, she discovered that she enjoyed the same types of books that her father did. Their discussions of literature extended beyond the classroom and helped them develop a closer relationship.

When Alison started college, she and her father connected over the books she was assigned in her English classes. However, his excitement for the literature she was reading soon left little room for her to have her own thoughts or opinions. She believed that he was living vicariously through her instead of connecting with her. 

Confessions

While home from school, Alison and her father went to see a movie. On the car ride to the theater, Alison’s father opened up a little about his experiences with men. He said that his first time was when he was fourteen with a man at the Fun Home. He also said that he used to dress up in girl’s clothing, just like Alison used to dress up in boy’s clothing. Though the conversation didn’t delve any deeper, Alison felt as though they had finally discussed the unspoken bond they shared over their sexuality. They never discussed it again. 

Alison’s Father’s Death

In Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s father died after he was hit by a truck while clearing brush from a home he was planning to renovate. The truck driver stated that Alison’s father jumped backward into the road as if he had seen a wild animal. Alison doesn’t know for sure, but she believes that his death was a suicide. She points to the facts that Alison’s mother had just filed for divorce and that her father had been reading literature that implied that life was meaningless.

Though Alison and her mother believed his death was deliberate, Alison mentioned later that perhaps her family chose to believe that because, to them, it was less painful. It gave her father agency over his own death. He chose when he wanted to die and went through with it.

Fun Home: Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Memoir

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Alison Bechdel's "Fun Home" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Fun Home summary:

  • What it's like to grow up in a funeral home
  • Why Alison Bechdel suspected her dad was a closeted homosexual
  • Why Alison believes that her father's death may have been a suicide

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

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