Saturday, 26 November 2011


Bechdel claimed that the structure of the book was like a labyrinth. Starting from the outside and slowing spiraling in towards the centre of the story. Funny that she would say that because the house to her felt like it was also a labyrinth and her father, the minotaur. If you have read the book, you would understand what she meant by labyrinth because the book did not flow in a chronological order like a normal story would. She divided the book into 7 chapters. All with very meaningful titles and a more realistic illustrations for each. Almost as if looking at an album of old memories.

In this chapter, Bechdel introduces her father and how they don't get really get along. She felt completely opposite to him and doesn't understand his tastes. "I  was spartan to my father's athenian. Modern to his Victorian. Butch to his nelly. Utilitarian to his aesthete" (pg 15). His maniacal passion to revamp the house and make everything perfect, including himself, she felt were lies. "He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but ti make things appear to be what they are not" (pg16). As mentioned earlier, the house was like a labyrinth. Something that seemed impossible to escape. Her father drags her in his obsession. Despite of being resentful by the way her father treated his furniture like children, and his children like furniture (pg 14), she treasured every little moment her father showed fatherly affection. 
The title "A Happy Death" derives from the copy of Camus' A Happy Death. A book that "he'd been reading and leaving around the house in what might be construed as a deliberate manner" (pg 27) five days prior to his death. In this chapter, Bechdel investigates the meaning behind his death. She felt it wasn't an accident because a lot of hints that led up to that moment. Though "it's possible that [she] chose to believe this because it was less painful" (pg 29). "intentional, accidental. It was une mort imbecile any way [she] looked at it" on page 54, which is the last page of the chapter. I point this out because it contradicts the overall title. In the end she considered it to be a stupid death. She also explores her parent's past as she doesn't want to repeat their mistakes in life and how they ended up in their "fun" home. Also known as funeral home which is quite ironic.
 This chapter slowly reveals more of the ugly side of what goes on in the Bechdel family especially the unhealthy relationship between her parents, Alison's journey to uncover her sexual identity and how that connects to her father. As she reveals her lesbianism to her mother, it opened up many unexpected things which Bechdel discloses to the readers. Like that phone call in which she dealt a staggering blow "Your father has had affairs. With other men." Alison was now upstaged, demoted from protagonist in her own drama to comic relief in her parent's tragedy (pg58). You get to understand what the title That Old Catastrophe means on page 78. As Bechdel transmitted her anguish on her journal, she quotes one tantalizing sentence that stands out from the bizarre letter she received from her mother. "I still hurt from old woulds. I have had to deal with this problem in another form that almost resulted in catastrophe." Bechdel's lesbianism is the new catastrophe and her father's gayness was the old.

In chapter 4, Bechdel shares memories of when she was younger and was still searching for answers, and was unsure of her sexuality. As well as uncovering hints from the past of her father's sexuality. The next is a hard one to summarize because it's quite all over the place. However, I guess it pretty much sums up what her dysfunctional family is like. "Our home was like an artists' colony. We ate together, but otherwise were absorbed in our separate pursuits and in this isolation, our creativity took on an aspect of compulsion" (pg 134).
      This one revolves a bit more about the mother and her "literally holding herself together" (pg164). I think it was to keep her distracted from the mess she was in by being involved in plays, practicing and writing so that she could have a life. The title's obviously ironic. Bruce had to go to a psychiatrist because he claims to be "bad. Not good good like [Bechdel]" (pg153) as he avoids to go into "detail". He also got into trouble for offering alcohol to a minor which he had to complete six months of counseling to have the charges dismissed (pg180).   

Last but not least, the final chapter: The Anti-hero's Journey. Bechdel consistently rebelled against her father and thrived to be opposite of him, which is probably led to her turning gay, throughout the book but at this point of her story she's all grown up and comes to an understanding that her father and herself are both quite common in a way. There's a sense of disclosure. Regardless of the lack of paternity, she was glad that he was there to catch her when she leapt (pg232). Unfortunately only appreciating this after he died.

There, I've deconstructed the book to describe Bechdel's storytelling decisions. Here's another interview of her. Describing on how she works and constructs her book.

Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: a Family Tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006. Print.

Heather Agoncillo

1 comment:

  1. Knowing Alison, from her memoir of course... I can see how her order/structure would be meticulously planned. After reading "Fun Home" and learning about her process and the way she thinks, I have begun to believe that everything she does is for a reason. So there's no doubt in my mind that her non linear structure was a planned, organized and one that was created with a lot of thought. I find that "Fun Home" has a good flow. I actually was surprised that she revealed the big death/suicide so early. But of course later I learned that it's much better that way since the death/suicide was not supposed to play as the climax, it was the catalyst that put her into her investigation (about herself, her father, the notion of identity).

    I was mainly please because my friend who first told me the memoir told me that it was about "a strict father who committed suicide and his daughter found out he was a closeted homosexual"... I totally thought she just blew the whole story for me, but the story is much more than just that! that's chapter 1! Theres a reason why we keep reading :)

    I'm sure she didn't have it all laid out as a non-linear narrative when she started, but probably re-organized the story to a point where it felt comfortable and fitting.

    Here's a video of what writer Robert McKee has to say about approaching Non-Linear stories.

    -Leanne Lau