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Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:828:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\\n<table style=\\"height: 645px; width: 285px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td><a href=\\"http://www.bppress.ca/product/old-mans-last-sauna/\\" target=\\"_blank\\"><img alt=\\"The Old Man\\'s Last Sauna, cover image\\" src=\\"/sites/default/files/2013_06/sauna_ad04.jpg\\" st in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135

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Warning: Table 'edadmin_drpl1.watchdog' doesn't exist query: INSERT INTO watchdog (uid, type, message, variables, severity, link, location, referer, hostname, timestamp) VALUES (0, 'php', '%message in %file on line %line.', 'a:4:{s:6:\"%error\";s:12:\"user warning\";s:8:\"%message\";s:2569:\"Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired\nquery: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center><br />\\n<table style=\\"width: 275px;\\">\\n<tbody>\\n<tr>\\n<td style=\\"background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center;\\">\\n<div><a href=\\"http://ed-rex.com/mailman/listinfo/ed-rex-update_ed-rex.com\\" target=\\"_blank\\"><strong><span style=\\"font-f in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/database.mysql.inc on line 135
Hype to watch out for: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel | www.ed-rex.com


Hype to watch out for: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:e3f4b4bb879e884eee6a7daf030bc50f' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<h1>(Not-such) Fun hype</h1>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"125\" align=\"left\" style=\"margin:4px 20px 10px 0px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/tenniel_white_rabbit_smallest_rev.jpg\" alt=\"\" /></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"192\" align=\"right\" style=\"margin:0px 0px 0px 20px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_09/fun_home_page_93_detail.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><em></em></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>As every former child prodigy knows, high expectations are both a blessing and a curse.</p>\n<p>A blessing, because past accomplishments open doors which might otherwise stay closed; a curse, because where others are free to hone their craft in obscurity, the prodigy is watched by every critical eye the moment they through that specially-opened portal.</p>\n<p>Alison Bechdel was no child prodigy, but she had a long run as a strip cartoonist during which time she was able to hone her craft in a gradually decreasing obscurity with <a href=\"http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/dtwof\" target=\"_blank\"><em>Dykes to Watch Out For</em></a>, an episodic strip that managed (at least to some extent) to broaden Bechdel\'s audience from its lesbian (and gay) base to many people who simply liked good comics.</p>\n<p>But getting your work noticed by <a href=\"http://www.tcj.com/\" target=\"_blank\"><em>The Comics Journal</em></a> is not in the same league as creating <em>Time Magazine</em>\'s <a href=\"http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1570801,00.html\" target=\"-blank\">Book of the Year</a> for 2006, as Bechdel\'s first graphic novel, <em>Fun Home</em>, was. My copy opens with three pages of review excerpts containing words like \"Masterful\" and comparisons to David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.</p>\n<p>High praise indeed; not many books could live up to it all. Does Bechdel\'s?</p>\n<p>No surprises: it doesn\'t. So why all the hype?</p>\n<h3><big><em>Fun Home</em>: The (semi)tragedy of hype</big></h3>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"150\" align=\"left\" style=\"margin:4px 20px 10px 0px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_09/funhome002_cover.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><strong><a href=\"http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/fun-home-2\" target=\"_blank\"><em>Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic</em></a><br />\nBy <a href=\"http://dykestowatchoutfor.com/about\" target=\"_blank\">Alison Bechdel</a><br />\n<a href=\"http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/booksellers/press_release/bechdel/\" target=\"_blank\">Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin)</a><br />\n2006, 232 pages<br />\nISBN-10: 0618477942</strong></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>It\'s tempting to blame our times &mdash; an age in which celebrity gossip over-shadows news (and nevermind ideas) &mdash; when considering the success of Bechdel\'s memoir, but that\'s probably unfair. Prurient interest in gossip and oddities is as hold as the hills and, though <em>Fun Home</em> doesn\'t pander, it <em>does</em> deal a double-dose of topically perverse subject-matter. Its narrator, Bechdel herself, is a lesbian and the book deals, somewhat tangentially, with her coming-of-age; and directly, with her father, Bruce, a possible suicide who lived his life as a closeted homosexual and who at least flirted with paedophilia.</p>\n<p>Such topics, in the guise of empathetic exploration, are likely to bring out the voyeur in all of us who live and breathe early 20st century air, just as most of us in the 1980s were at once distant enough from, yet close enough to, the Holocaust to make for a trend of memoirs and fictions that dealt with the 20th century\'s most notorious episode of mass slaughter &mdash; Art Spiegelman\'s <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maus\" target=\"_blank\"><em>Maus</em></a> comes immediately to mind as an artistically successful example; the execrable <a href=\"http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_Is_Beautiful\" target=\"_blank\"><em>Life Is Beautiful</em></a> is an example I still regret not having walked out of the theatre on.</p>\n<p>In other words, and regardless of an individual work\'s intrinsic quality, a form of magical thinking seems to take hold of public and critics alike when a book or film\'s topic intersects with the era\'s <em>zeitgeist</em>. (Fortunately, if unfairly, this dispensation doesn\'t usually apply to teenage poets, whose work is invariably Serious and Heartfelt by intent, if almost never by execution. But I digress.)</p>\n<p>None of which is to say that <em>Fun Home</em> is a bad book. In fact, it\'s a pretty good one; judged strictly against its graphic novel peers, it is a very good book. Probably not one meriting a spot on the still very small shelf holding works of the first rank, but definitely one deserving inclusion on the second, not much longer, platform beneath.</p>\n<p>But it was certainly not the<em> best book</em> of 2006 or of any other year in recent memory, no matter what accolades crowd the front of the book.</p>\n<h3><big>The dropping of names</big></h3>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"120\" align=\"left\" style=\"margin: 4px 10px 10px 0px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\">\n<script type=\"text/javascript\"><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 120x240, created 8/22/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"4212400788\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 120;\ngoogle_ad_height = 240;\n//--><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 120x240, created 8/22/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"4212400788\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 120;\ngoogle_ad_height = 240;\n//-->\n</script><script type=\"text/javascript\"\nsrc=\"http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js\">\n</script></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"300\" align=\"right\" style=\"margin:0px 0px 0px 20px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_09/fun_home_page_93.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><strong>Bechdel effectively uses a basic grid and a simplified linear style to tell her story; the blue washes add a visual depth to what might otherwise be too stark imagery.</strong></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>Bechdel\'s novel is just that, a (short) <em>novel</em>, and is successfully structured as such. (All right: it\'s technically a memoir, but it reads like fiction and so deserves to be judged against that standard, at least in part.)</p>\n<p>The story alternates in time between Bechdel\'s early childhood and her early adulthood, when she realized she was a lesbian, shortly before her father\'s death. Bechdel\'s transitions from one time and place to another (and back again) are accomplished and seamless, the work of an artist with full control over not just the visual elements of her craft, but over the structure of her story, as well.</p>\n<p>As for the visual elements, the subdued, black and white drawings quite properly take a back seat to story and Bechdel\'s decision to use a blue wash rather than colour to her rather minimalist line drawings works both to reinforce the book\'s elegiacal tone and to provide a visual variety to what might otherwise have been too bleak and stark a style for such a long work.</p>\n<p>But structural control and mastery of the visual grammar of comics by themselves don\'t make for a book which is, presumably, going to be one of <em>Time</em>\'s 100 best books of the century come the year 2100.</p>\n<p>And it is, perhaps, the very control that makes of the book such a triumph of craft which at the same time serves to undermine its aspirations to Art.</p>\n<p>Bechdel takes great pains to distance herself from her subject &mdash; or subjects, as the author\'s younger self is most definitely the co-star of the narrative, not just fifth business &mdash; and worse, she strains after allusions as if she believes the mere mention of names like Proust or Joyce will by osmosis lend her own work their depth and respectability of the Classics.</p>\n<p>I have no reason to doubt that Bruce Bechdel was a man who loved literature, who could and did wax eloquent about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Joyce; but Bechdel never convinced me that his life paralleled either the fiction or the fact of those writers; worse, her attempts draw analogies to Icarus and Christ come off as sophomorically pretentious.</p>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"450\" align=\"left\" style=\"margin:4px 20px 10px 0px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_09/fun_home_page_7_detail.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><strong>The Christ analogy, like others, comes off as sophomorically pretentious.</strong></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>All that said, <em>Fun Home</em> feels about as honest as one can hope to find in a memoir about an abusive parent, while never once giving the reader the sense that the author is exacting some kind of posthumous revenge. Bechdel in fact manages to paint a portrait of remarkable empathy with a novelist\'s knack for fully imagining the Other.</p>\n<p>Still, when I re-read <em>Fun Home</em> for the purposes of this essay, doing so proved a bit of a chore. Neither Bechdel\'s empathy nor her technical chops could disguise the book\'s fundamental flaws: its overly-descriptive prose (a sin at the best of times, it is a major flaw for a <em>cartoonist</em> to tell when she can <em>show</em>) and forced allusions, and the author\'s inability to break through the surface of subject, no matter how much empathy she brings to bear upon it.</p>\n<p>If you\'re a comics fan looking for adult material, <em>Fun Home</em> should be a delight; if you\'re a lesbian, or are close to someone who is gay, the coming-out aspects of the story should provide many elements for identification; and if you were raised by a semi-paedophilic, closeted-homosexual father who doubled as a high-school English teacher and mortician with a passion is to renovate old houses, you\'ll be enthralled by the closely-observed details of that particular life.</p>\n<p>The rest of us? Maybe not so much.</p>\n<p>Or is it just me? Why did <em>Fun Home</em> become one of those almost non-existent cross-over hits &mdash; a comics both popular and respectable? Is it really \"masterful\" (<em>The Village Voice</em>)? Does it stand out \"in an ocean of hype\" like \"a drink of pure water\" (the <em>Cleveland Plains Dealer</em>)? Is it \"stupendous\", as a writer called Chip Kidd is quoted as having written?</p>\n<p>No and no and no.</p>\n<h3><big>Magical thinking</big></h3>\n<table cellpadding=\"0\" cellspacing=\"0\" width=\"375\" align=\"right\" style=\"margin:0px 0px 0px 20px;\">\n<tr>\n<td style=\"padding:0px;\"><img src=\"/sites/default/files/2010_09/fun_home_page_153_detail.jpg\" alt=\"\" /><small><strong></strong></small></td>\n</tr>\n</table>\n<p>I\'ll venture that what\'s going on here is the conflation of quality with intent and with subject-matter.</p>\n<p>Just as the Holocaust had its day in the popular sun in the 1980s and 1990s, when the generation of survivors was reaching its natural span and collectively decided they wanted to talk about their experiences after all, so now are all things gay having theirs. For very different reasons, the varieties of human sexuality have come out of the closet like never before, with people whose sexuality is other than straight insisting that they too are fully human and that they will &mdash; by damn! &mdash; take the time needed to talk to each other about it (and if the rest of us want to listen in, that\'s fine too).</p>\n<p>So Bechdel\'s memoir touches on a topically Serious Subject and gets a critical head-start because of it. Add to that temporal serendipity the perfectly natural (if not particularly admirable) human tendency to rubber-neck when the subject of sex comes around &mdash; especially if the sex is unusual or scandalous &mdash; <em>and</em> the perception that <em>comics=junk</em>, and we have the explanation for <em>Fun Home</em>\'s over-exuberant reception.</p>\n<p>At the risk of sounding disrespectful, both its form and its content are seen by many as being like the proverbial dancing bear; folks are so impressed it can tango at all that we don\'t complain steps on our toes.</p>\n<p>Where Spiegelman\'s <em>Maus</em> managed to transcend its Holocaust-related specifics, Bechdel\'s story never quite achieves universality, remaining instead <em>one</em> woman\'s reflections upon her coming-of-age and her troubled relationship with her even-more troubled father.</p>\n<p>As I said at the outset, prodigies get the best and the worst of things; so too do the over-hyped. Bechdel has probably earned more money and gained more attention than she ever imagined possible for a \"dyke cartoonist\", but so too will she also gather the brickbats from those of us who don\'t think the work lives up to its billing.</p>\n<p>If you like fairly thoughtful memoirs of people who have lived unusual lives, <em>Fun Home</em> should be a satisfying place to visit. The rest of us would do better to find another place to spend the night.</p>\n<p><center></center></p>\n<script type=\"text/javascript\"><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 728x90, created 8/25/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"5249112326\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 728;\ngoogle_ad_height = 90;\n//--><!--\ngoogle_ad_client = \"pub-5278265615507417\";\n/* 728x90, created 8/25/10 */\ngoogle_ad_slot = \"5249112326\";\ngoogle_ad_width = 728;\ngoogle_ad_height = 90;\n//-->\n</script><script type=\"text/javascript\"\nsrc=\"http://pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js\">\n</script><p></p>\n', created = 1513238823, expire = 1513325223, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:e3f4b4bb879e884eee6a7daf030bc50f' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p>I wonder if you\'ve missed a lot of what the book has to offer through youth or through careless reading -- I wrote out a whole bunch of notes, but you\'re young and just starting out, so no use laboring you with all that. You should try to keep from using too many rote phrases and canned ideas in your critiques of work, and if you don\'t know who Chip Kidd is, there\'s nothing to prevent you from looking him up before you try to make a joke out of his name.</p>\n', created = 1513238823, expire = 1513325223, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:5243676735eb14234d6df0ee4105ad2e' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p>Your condescension would probably be galling if I was as young as you seem to think I am; as it stands, though, it\'s only mildly annoying. I won\'t bother asking you for the \"whole bunch of notes\" you wrote, but I will point out that I didn\'t make a joke of Chip Kidd\'s name, or of Chip Kidd at all. I merely noted that his appraisal of Bechdel\'s work is, to my mind, rather excessive.</p>\n<p>Why you think that looking him up would change that disagreement is a mystery to me.</p>\n', created = 1513238823, expire = 1513325223, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:c95406fd956a5d41b5dd86ad2b79b364' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: SELECT data, created, headers, expire, serialized FROM cache_filter WHERE cid = '2:b4af959d40a1974fe19c4e6b67ec0eea' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 27.
  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p>Sorry if I underestimated your age -- I was guessing from the review that you were a college undergrad or thereabouts --<br />\nMaybe it\'s because nobody could possibly not know Chip Kidd (if one pays attention to books and design) that I thought you were making a joke, or didn\'t know who he was -- why did you feel it was necessary to say he was a writer?</p>\n<p>You missed the mark on the book\'s universality. It didn\'t appeal to you, but there are a lot of people who related to the thing who AREN\'T lesbians, or even women. It got me because my family life was complicated. Everybody\'s family\'s lives are complicated. Insert Tolstoy quote here. It might be one woman\'s story, but a reader finds resonance in other people\'s stories that relate to his or her own. That\'s how it works.</p>\n<p>Also, your idea that the book\'s popularity rests on sex is weird. That\'s something that says more about the reviewer. Does it seem likely that the guys who listed this book as one of the best of the year spent some time whacking off to it? </p>\n<p>And, as a cartoonist, if I hear one more uninformed reviewer say \"You should show, not tell,\" I will throw this brick. Go ahead! Knock the captions off a page of \"Fun Home\" and see how many layers of the narrative you remove! Comics are a hybrid of text and image. Sometimes you can\'t explain an intricate story without narration. \"..it is a major flaw for a cartoonist to tell when she can show\" is a received idea that I rate as less informed than \"You should send your comics to the paper and try to get them printed.\"</p>\n<p>You get the idea. I\'m not going to suggest you stop writing reviews. The thing to do is write more of them, to the point where you know what you\'re doing.</p>\n', created = 1513238823, expire = 1513325223, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:b4af959d40a1974fe19c4e6b67ec0eea' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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  • user warning: Table './edadmin_drpl1/cache_filter' is marked as crashed and should be repaired query: UPDATE cache_filter SET data = '<p><center></center></p>\n<table align=\"center\" style=\"width: 225px;\">\n<tbody>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center; vertical-align: bottom;\">\n<div><span style=\"font-size: 19px;\"><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\"><strong>Like what you&#39;ve read?</strong></span></span></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162);\">\n<form action=\"https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr\" method=\"post\"><input name=\"cmd\" type=\"hidden\" value=\"_s-xclick\" /> <input name=\"hosted_button_id\" type=\"hidden\" value=\"MR496TCXQQXQL\" /> <input alt=\"PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!\" border=\"0\" name=\"submit\" target=\"_blank\" src=\"http://ed-rex.com/sites/default/files/adverts/donate_button02.gif\" type=\"image\" /> <img alt=\"\" border=\"0\" height=\"1\" src=\"https://www.paypalobjects.com/en_US/i/scr/pixel.gif\" width=\"1\" /></form>\n</td>\n</tr>\n<tr>\n<td style=\"width: 225px; background-color: rgb(176, 83, 162); text-align: center; vertical-align: top;\">\n<div><span style=\"font-size: 26px;\"><em><strong><span style=\"font-family: georgia,serif;\">Tip the author!</span></strong></em></span></div>\n</td>\n</tr>\n</tbody>\n</table>\n<p></p>\n', created = 1513238824, expire = 1513325224, headers = '', serialized = 0 WHERE cid = '2:a777d0249b540b4111ef42e9d15d7638' in /home/edadmin/public_html/includes/cache.inc on line 112.
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(Not-such) Fun hype

As every former child prodigy knows, high expectations are both a blessing and a curse.

A blessing, because past accomplishments open doors which might otherwise stay closed; a curse, because where others are free to hone their craft in obscurity, the prodigy is watched by every critical eye the moment they through that specially-opened portal.

Alison Bechdel was no child prodigy, but she had a long run as a strip cartoonist during which time she was able to hone her craft in a gradually decreasing obscurity with Dykes to Watch Out For, an episodic strip that managed (at least to some extent) to broaden Bechdel's audience from its lesbian (and gay) base to many people who simply liked good comics.

But getting your work noticed by The Comics Journal is not in the same league as creating Time Magazine's Book of the Year for 2006, as Bechdel's first graphic novel, Fun Home, was. My copy opens with three pages of review excerpts containing words like "Masterful" and comparisons to David Sedaris, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov, among others.

High praise indeed; not many books could live up to it all. Does Bechdel's?

No surprises: it doesn't. So why all the hype?

Fun Home: The (semi)tragedy of hype

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
By Alison Bechdel
Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin)
2006, 232 pages
ISBN-10: 0618477942

It's tempting to blame our times — an age in which celebrity gossip over-shadows news (and nevermind ideas) — when considering the success of Bechdel's memoir, but that's probably unfair. Prurient interest in gossip and oddities is as hold as the hills and, though Fun Home doesn't pander, it does deal a double-dose of topically perverse subject-matter. Its narrator, Bechdel herself, is a lesbian and the book deals, somewhat tangentially, with her coming-of-age; and directly, with her father, Bruce, a possible suicide who lived his life as a closeted homosexual and who at least flirted with paedophilia.

Such topics, in the guise of empathetic exploration, are likely to bring out the voyeur in all of us who live and breathe early 20st century air, just as most of us in the 1980s were at once distant enough from, yet close enough to, the Holocaust to make for a trend of memoirs and fictions that dealt with the 20th century's most notorious episode of mass slaughter — Art Spiegelman's Maus comes immediately to mind as an artistically successful example; the execrable Life Is Beautiful is an example I still regret not having walked out of the theatre on.

In other words, and regardless of an individual work's intrinsic quality, a form of magical thinking seems to take hold of public and critics alike when a book or film's topic intersects with the era's zeitgeist. (Fortunately, if unfairly, this dispensation doesn't usually apply to teenage poets, whose work is invariably Serious and Heartfelt by intent, if almost never by execution. But I digress.)

None of which is to say that Fun Home is a bad book. In fact, it's a pretty good one; judged strictly against its graphic novel peers, it is a very good book. Probably not one meriting a spot on the still very small shelf holding works of the first rank, but definitely one deserving inclusion on the second, not much longer, platform beneath.

But it was certainly not the best book of 2006 or of any other year in recent memory, no matter what accolades crowd the front of the book.

The dropping of names

Bechdel effectively uses a basic grid and a simplified linear style to tell her story; the blue washes add a visual depth to what might otherwise be too stark imagery.

Bechdel's novel is just that, a (short) novel, and is successfully structured as such. (All right: it's technically a memoir, but it reads like fiction and so deserves to be judged against that standard, at least in part.)

The story alternates in time between Bechdel's early childhood and her early adulthood, when she realized she was a lesbian, shortly before her father's death. Bechdel's transitions from one time and place to another (and back again) are accomplished and seamless, the work of an artist with full control over not just the visual elements of her craft, but over the structure of her story, as well.

As for the visual elements, the subdued, black and white drawings quite properly take a back seat to story and Bechdel's decision to use a blue wash rather than colour to her rather minimalist line drawings works both to reinforce the book's elegiacal tone and to provide a visual variety to what might otherwise have been too bleak and stark a style for such a long work.

But structural control and mastery of the visual grammar of comics by themselves don't make for a book which is, presumably, going to be one of Time's 100 best books of the century come the year 2100.

And it is, perhaps, the very control that makes of the book such a triumph of craft which at the same time serves to undermine its aspirations to Art.

Bechdel takes great pains to distance herself from her subject — or subjects, as the author's younger self is most definitely the co-star of the narrative, not just fifth business — and worse, she strains after allusions as if she believes the mere mention of names like Proust or Joyce will by osmosis lend her own work their depth and respectability of the Classics.

I have no reason to doubt that Bruce Bechdel was a man who loved literature, who could and did wax eloquent about Fitzgerald and Hemingway and Joyce; but Bechdel never convinced me that his life paralleled either the fiction or the fact of those writers; worse, her attempts draw analogies to Icarus and Christ come off as sophomorically pretentious.

The Christ analogy, like others, comes off as sophomorically pretentious.

All that said, Fun Home feels about as honest as one can hope to find in a memoir about an abusive parent, while never once giving the reader the sense that the author is exacting some kind of posthumous revenge. Bechdel in fact manages to paint a portrait of remarkable empathy with a novelist's knack for fully imagining the Other.

Still, when I re-read Fun Home for the purposes of this essay, doing so proved a bit of a chore. Neither Bechdel's empathy nor her technical chops could disguise the book's fundamental flaws: its overly-descriptive prose (a sin at the best of times, it is a major flaw for a cartoonist to tell when she can show) and forced allusions, and the author's inability to break through the surface of subject, no matter how much empathy she brings to bear upon it.

If you're a comics fan looking for adult material, Fun Home should be a delight; if you're a lesbian, or are close to someone who is gay, the coming-out aspects of the story should provide many elements for identification; and if you were raised by a semi-paedophilic, closeted-homosexual father who doubled as a high-school English teacher and mortician with a passion is to renovate old houses, you'll be enthralled by the closely-observed details of that particular life.

The rest of us? Maybe not so much.

Or is it just me? Why did Fun Home become one of those almost non-existent cross-over hits — a comics both popular and respectable? Is it really "masterful" (The Village Voice)? Does it stand out "in an ocean of hype" like "a drink of pure water" (the Cleveland Plains Dealer)? Is it "stupendous", as a writer called Chip Kidd is quoted as having written?

No and no and no.

Magical thinking

I'll venture that what's going on here is the conflation of quality with intent and with subject-matter.

Just as the Holocaust had its day in the popular sun in the 1980s and 1990s, when the generation of survivors was reaching its natural span and collectively decided they wanted to talk about their experiences after all, so now are all things gay having theirs. For very different reasons, the varieties of human sexuality have come out of the closet like never before, with people whose sexuality is other than straight insisting that they too are fully human and that they will — by damn! — take the time needed to talk to each other about it (and if the rest of us want to listen in, that's fine too).

So Bechdel's memoir touches on a topically Serious Subject and gets a critical head-start because of it. Add to that temporal serendipity the perfectly natural (if not particularly admirable) human tendency to rubber-neck when the subject of sex comes around — especially if the sex is unusual or scandalous — and the perception that comics=junk, and we have the explanation for Fun Home's over-exuberant reception.

At the risk of sounding disrespectful, both its form and its content are seen by many as being like the proverbial dancing bear; folks are so impressed it can tango at all that we don't complain steps on our toes.

Where Spiegelman's Maus managed to transcend its Holocaust-related specifics, Bechdel's story never quite achieves universality, remaining instead one woman's reflections upon her coming-of-age and her troubled relationship with her even-more troubled father.

As I said at the outset, prodigies get the best and the worst of things; so too do the over-hyped. Bechdel has probably earned more money and gained more attention than she ever imagined possible for a "dyke cartoonist", but so too will she also gather the brickbats from those of us who don't think the work lives up to its billing.

If you like fairly thoughtful memoirs of people who have lived unusual lives, Fun Home should be a satisfying place to visit. The rest of us would do better to find another place to spend the night.

Spread the word!

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I wonder if you've missed a

I wonder if you've missed a lot of what the book has to offer through youth or through careless reading -- I wrote out a whole bunch of notes, but you're young and just starting out, so no use laboring you with all that. You should try to keep from using too many rote phrases and canned ideas in your critiques of work, and if you don't know who Chip Kidd is, there's nothing to prevent you from looking him up before you try to make a joke out of his name.

Speaking of careless reading

Your condescension would probably be galling if I was as young as you seem to think I am; as it stands, though, it's only mildly annoying. I won't bother asking you for the "whole bunch of notes" you wrote, but I will point out that I didn't make a joke of Chip Kidd's name, or of Chip Kidd at all. I merely noted that his appraisal of Bechdel's work is, to my mind, rather excessive.

Why you think that looking him up would change that disagreement is a mystery to me.

Sorry if I underestimated

Sorry if I underestimated your age -- I was guessing from the review that you were a college undergrad or thereabouts --
Maybe it's because nobody could possibly not know Chip Kidd (if one pays attention to books and design) that I thought you were making a joke, or didn't know who he was -- why did you feel it was necessary to say he was a writer?

You missed the mark on the book's universality. It didn't appeal to you, but there are a lot of people who related to the thing who AREN'T lesbians, or even women. It got me because my family life was complicated. Everybody's family's lives are complicated. Insert Tolstoy quote here. It might be one woman's story, but a reader finds resonance in other people's stories that relate to his or her own. That's how it works.

Also, your idea that the book's popularity rests on sex is weird. That's something that says more about the reviewer. Does it seem likely that the guys who listed this book as one of the best of the year spent some time whacking off to it?

And, as a cartoonist, if I hear one more uninformed reviewer say "You should show, not tell," I will throw this brick. Go ahead! Knock the captions off a page of "Fun Home" and see how many layers of the narrative you remove! Comics are a hybrid of text and image. Sometimes you can't explain an intricate story without narration. "..it is a major flaw for a cartoonist to tell when she can show" is a received idea that I rate as less informed than "You should send your comics to the paper and try to get them printed."

You get the idea. I'm not going to suggest you stop writing reviews. The thing to do is write more of them, to the point where you know what you're doing.

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