I enjoy reading memoirs. I like reading someone else’s story and finding the universal connection between myself and a stranger. Failing that, it’s nice to see if someone else’s life is more fucked up than mine. A competition among strangers to see who gets the bigger laugh and the most pity.
Graphic memoirs are amazing because the author is choosing the images she wants you to see. A sentence that I might pass over in text becomes impossible to miss because of the way the shadowing was done on the page or the angle of the bodies or the images in the background. Less words are needed, so the ones that are chosen have more importance.
Of course this doesn’t work if I don’t like the art work. If the story sucks but the art is my style, I can slog through. If the story is great but I hate the art, I’m probably not going to finish.
Luckily for me, Bechdel has an amazing story and I really like her drawing style.
Trying to summarize this story is giving me fits because of all the levels. It’s a story of a girl growing up in a messed up family. It’s a story of a Fun House – the funeral home owned by the Bechdel’s where the kids saw the bodies and helped set up for calling hours. It’s a coming out story. It’s a story where Bechdel learns about her father’s sexuality. It’s a story of a child, then an adult, then an adult looking back at her childhood. It’s the story of a miserable marriage. It’s the story of OCD and transference and cognitive dissonance.
That last paragraph was a bitch to write because it’s not correct, even after I chopped it apart and rewrote it several times. There’s a lot going on in these pages and it’s difficult to explain, but that’s OK because there’s a lot going on in Bechdel’s head that’s probably still difficult for her to explain.
I responded strongly to the ending. I think most of us get to a point where we begin to view our parents as people. As we get older we think of the decisions that our parents made in terms of how we would make them right now. It changes the relationship and it’s hard to hold onto anger and grievances of your teenage self when your adult self suddenly understands. But they’re still your parents and you’re still their child and the mix of kid and adult is confusing at best. And your 12 year old self is still wicked pissed.
Bechdel does a beautiful job longing to and resiting the urge to reframe her father’s story into something she can relate to. On the other hand, she does relate to parts of it, and that has to irritate the hell out of her younger self.
There are very few secrets in this book after the first few pages and the back and forth spirals work as Bechdel tries to untangle her life. It wasn’t horrific, it wasn’t ideal, and it is hers.