A half hour into our first discussion this month at the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Book Club, I could see I was in trouble. I like this book too much. So does everyone else. Those are not the ingredients for a healthy discussion. The good ones are always the hardest.
I’ve just finished enjoying my third reading of Alison Bechdel’s life-and-joy-filled graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. What a masterpiece! No matter how much I adore Persepolis and Aya, this Fun Home is the greatest graphic experience of my life. Reading it this third time only reminds me of one brilliant moment after another, besides discovering once again a zillion little touches I’d been blind to on my previous readings. So smart, so heartfelt and compassionate, and so dang funny.
I can think of no other work of literature, ever, that contains such lifelike, detailed portraits of both a gay man and a lesbian, and of two generations to boot. Just for starters, there’s Bechdel’s honesty and depth of perception. Add to that her graphic brilliance. Once you’ve seen Alison Bechdel explain how much work goes into a single panel, how she doesn’t draw a single human figure from memory, you understand why this towering achievement took her seven years to complete.
Some people act condescending about gay art, lower their standards, forgive more. Here’s a work of art where that isn’t a problem, a personal revelation that only continues in repeated viewings to show new depths and wisdom. Sure, you have to forgive Bechdel’s occasional shameless preference for words that are long mouthfuls when far easier ones would do. What can annoy the reader at first, looking like conceit, really turns out to be the sheer goofy joy of language in a geeky young genius.
From the creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For,” this heartbreakingly honest document of growing up gay was named Time Magazine‘s Number 1 Book of the Year. If you’ve read it, you know why. It’s a book that radiates a passionate zeal for books. In cartoon panels littered with books that have literal names on their spines, in story turns that are tributes to Proust and James Joyce and dozens of others, Bechdel’s narrative circles around the mystery of her father’s death and the discovery of his suppressed, secret gay life just as she herself is coming to terms with her own gayness.
The problem is: the book is too good. Flawed narratives are so much easier to discuss. Fun Home reduces me to admiration mode. I’m too adoring and too uncritical to be provocative in my questioning. Having your club sit around agreeing and nodding about how wonderful a book is only goes so far.
Ahead this month lie three more meetings discussing Fun Home. Ouch. Asking people to give up a sunny summer day to come inside Dunshee House and discuss any book is asking a lot. I need to make it worth their while. I need to goose this conversation. Think, man, think. This is going to take some kind of creative new approach…