Fun Home Book Summary, by Alison Bechdel

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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.

A New York Times best-seller, _Fun Home _has been acclaimed for its discussion about the topic of intergenerational homosexuality and its innovative approach to the genres of both comics and memoirs.

1-Page Summary of Fun Home

_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

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.

Reacting to Death

One day, Alison’s father asked her to come to the room where he embalmed the bodies. On the table was a dead, naked man with his chest cut open. She was shocked to see the man’s genitals as well as his internal organs. Her father asked for a pair of scissors that he easily could have grabbed himself. She thinks that this was likely his attempt at eliciting an emotional response to death that he no longer felt.

Later in her life, Alison related to this as she coped with her father’s death. After he died, she would tell people of his passing in a matter-of-fact way to try to elicit an emotional response from them. This was her attempt to emote vicariously through someone else because she wasn’t feeling the sadness or grief that she thought she should be feeling.

Sexuality and Marriage

Alison 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.

Her Father’s Inner Turmoil

Alison’s father was likely a closeted homosexual or bisexual man. Though he never directly expressed his sexuality to his family, Alison recognized a few behaviors that showed her father’s more feminine side throughout her childhood (such as his use of a bronzing stick). **She implies that her father’s repression was a source of self-loathing and misplaced anger. **She compares her father’s desire to create the image of a perfect home despite its disrepair to his desire to create the image of the perfect man despite his inner struggle.

**Her father was sensitive to failure and disorder. **He punished his children at any sign of imperfection, even if they hadn’t done anything wrong. For example, he once asked the family why a vase had gotten close to the edge of the table. No one responded, so he proceeded to grab and spank Alison as she cried that she hadn’t done anything.

He was not only sensitive to the perceived failures of his children, but he was also sensitive to his own.** **For example, one of Alison’s brothers once commented on the peace signs on their father’s tie. It was not a critique, just an observation. Despite the fact that he was running late, Alison’s father immediately ran up to his room and changed ties.

A Double Life

**Alison’s father tried to live a double life: one in which he was the perfect family man, and another in which he followed his sexual predilections. **He would often take trips without Alison’s mother and bring his children and whatever boy was helping him with housework at the time.

For a while, this boy was Roy. He babysat the kids and helped Alison’s father with a variety of tasks. He accompanied them to the beach one year. After her father’s death, Alison found a photo of Roy taken during this trip by her father. In the photo, Roy is lying in bed wearing only his underwear. At the time, Roy was only 17.

She doesn’t blame her father for his behavior. In fact, she wonders if she would have had the guts to be openly gay in the 1950s, or if she would have done exactly as her father had and made a life for herself pretending to be straight. Though discrimination against homosexuals still existed in the 80s, it was nothing compared to that of the 50s. For example, while she and her lesbian friends were once denied entrance to a bar because of their sexuality, the lesbians of the 50s had to deal with bar raids and cross-dressing rules.

Isolation and Disorder

Alison experienced isolation within her own home. Her parents were both artistic. Her father had the house to fix. Her mother played piano and rehearsed for her productions. When she tried to interact with either of them, they would often ignore her to focus on their work.** She describes her home as an artist’s colony in which each member of the family became consumed by their passion, but in isolation.**

OCD

In addition to the disorder she felt within her household, **Alison also developed an actual disorder at the age of 10. **Initially, her obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) involved counting the drips in the bathtub. She couldn’t turn off the faucet until the final drip count was an even number and not a multiple of 13. Soon, her behaviors intensified. She developed rituals for crossing through doorways and had to put on her clothes in a specific order.

During her OCD phase, Alison started a diary. Initially, the entries were bland and straightforward.** However, she soon began questioning how she knew that everything she was writing down was objectively true.** She began writing the words “I think” in small letters between sentences. She soon developed a symbol to represent the phrase “I think” and began to cover her diary entries with it.** **The symbols covered up names and pronouns that referred to other people because she couldn’t confirm what they actually saw or thought, and she had to satiate her need to be completely accurate in her diary entries.

Slowly and with the help of her mother,** she began to give up her compulsions. **She would dictate her diary entries to her mother and developed dates by which she had to stop certain behaviors. Ironically, she was just as obsessive about kicking the habits as she had been with adopting them.

The Summer of 1974

Alison experienced a chaotic summer in 1974 because of events in the country, in her community, and in her personal life. In the United States, the Watergate scandal was coming to a head. In her community, locusts had risen from the ground and infested the town. In her personal life, Alison started puberty and her father got arrested for giving alcohol to an underage boy.

The End of Childhood

**When Alison was 13, she got her first period in June. **At first, she didn’t mention it in her diary or tell anyone about this development, not even her mother. She hoped that ignoring it would make it go away. However, when she got her second period, she knew that she had to do something. For a while, she used tissue paper so that she could wait for the right moment to address her development. Though she almost brought it up on a few occasions, Alison didn’t tell her mother that she had gotten her period until around December of that year—**almost 6 months after her first one. **

Alison’s Father and the Police

**Alison’s father had a run-in with the police after an incident with an underage boy. **Her father picked up a 17-year old and told him that his brother had gone missing. The boy got in the car and they went looking for his brother. During their search, her father purchased a six-pack of beer and offered the boy a drink. Alison’s father was sent a summons and was charged with giving alcohol to a minor. Though Alison never knew the nature of her father’s relationship with the boys, she later inferred that it was sexual.

While in court, the magistrate focused solely on the alcohol charge and never brought up the nature of Alison’s father’s relationship with the two boys. The judge agreed to dismiss the charges if he agreed to 6 months of counseling. Alison implies that the nature of the sentencing had little to do with the liquor charge and more to do with the unspoken accusation:** a homosexual act with a minor.**

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

Alison 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

Alison’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.


Full Summary of Fun Home

Chapters 1-2: Life at Home

_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: The author includes many references to literature. For the sake of clarity, this summary includes brief descriptions of the stories and…

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Fun Home Book Summary, by Alison Bechdel
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