Sunday, 30 October 2011

Genre: Alison's approach to Memoir writing

Like I mentioned in my previous post, memoir is also a genre. Unlike an autobiography there are no concrete rules concerning the chronology, and also there are no set rules regarding structure, form or technique when constructing a memoir. Fun Home is non-linear memoir and the relationships in the story were built gradually and in pieces. The non-linear form, allowed Bechdel to revisit events that have already been told and in addition she would often revisit these memories over and over again. What I found fascinating was how new details and revelations would be presented through these revisited memories. With this technique Bechdel is able to mimic how one would feel searching through old memories in search for a greater significance (which a relatable experience).

It is undeniable that Alison Bechdel much like her father was well read. She nourishes her readers with insightful allusions, adding depth to personas and circumstances. She most commonly alluded to literature and Greek mythology, including the Tragedy The Odyssey. Unfortunately, I only caught a fraction of her allusions, but for the one’s I understood (references to the Great Gatsby) it added to the experience and reinforced her point. I see her allusions as a nice luxury to have in her memoir, the general idea or point was always clearly explained, but her allusions just again added to the experience.

I am still amazed by her incredible attention to detail! I found a blog (which is quite interesting) written by Ken Foster, one of the children from the Foster family that the Bechdel siblings would play with. This is a quote from his blog, which confirms how accurate some parts of her memoir actually are.

But Alison's memoir, serious as it is, is also a whole lot of fun. Despite the dark secrets, it mostly celebrates the strange and wonderful house and family that I remember visiting. We visited often. The three Bechdel kids went to school with the Foster kids through the sixth grade. Alison was in my sister's class; Christian in my brother's; John in mine. So it was more or less decided that the six of us would be friends, because it was convenient for our parents. (We also spent a lot of time with the other trio of kids, the "Gryglewicz" kids, according to the book.) And those are the details that really knock me over in the book: Helen Bechdel preparing for her role in "The Importance of Being Ernest" (we were staying at their house that week, and she would play scenes for us and ask advice); the huge, artifical granduer of their house, which made it seem like another world, everything bigger and more dramatic; the oddness (to me anyway) of the fact that they had no TV room, but rather a small TV that was housed on a bookshelf, with a chaise lounge positioned in front of it.” - Ken Foster

This is a quote clipping from an article written on by Margot Harrison, just to give a little insight on how Alison approached recalling her memories with as much accuracy as possible.  

“In the wake of the James Frey debacle, there's been speculation about whether it's possible to write a compelling memoir without making things up. Bechdel admits that she filled in a few gaps with her imagination, sometimes inadvertently. Still, she says that "what I found was that [the evidence] was often much more interesting than anything I could possibly fabricate.” To recreate the past, she relied on "documentary evidence" -- her father's letters, her childhood diaries and family photo albums she ‘commandeered.’ …I had all these memories…but when I looked in my diary, I found that all these things had happened in a two-month period” she says “if you were making that up, it would be really bad writing”

Post by: Leanne Lau

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. 1. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 232. Print.

Foster, Ken. "Encountering my Childhood in Alison Bechdel's Fun Home." Ken Foster., 06 JUN 2006. Web. 30 Oct. 2011. <>.

Harrison, Margot. "Life Drawing."Seven Days. N.p., 30 MAY 2006. Web. 30 Oct 2011. <>.

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