Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In Which I Finish Reading (devouring really) a Graphic Memoir
I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic in one day. Not a surprise. Graphic novels are a breeze to read, especially when it is as illuminating as this one is. But this is not a novel. It’s a memoir. Written in graphic novel style. And fabulous. I devoured it the way I had done Danny Gregory’s Everyday Matters, another graphic memoir. The artistic styles are hugely different. The only thing they both had in common was a deep resonance for me. Gregory writes about how his wife’s paralyzing accident changes their lives and how he himself learned to cope. I found myself reading it wondering if this is how Rob feels about my vertigo and how it has complicated our lives. And then Bechdel’s memoir . . . she actually uses words I have to look up in a dictionary (although I pretty much understand them contextually). Do you know how rare this is? Especially in a contemporary writer? I was so excited I practically had an orgasm reading her story. And as if that weren’t enough, there are all of these wonderful literary allusions, mythic metaphors that give deeper meaning and implication to the events of the story. Even without these things, the story is powerful and powerfully told. The first chapter lays it all out for the reader. Young woman tells her parents she is a lesbian mere weeks before her father dies in an accident that she believes was no accident. As she tries to comprehend her father’s suicide, family secrets come out of the closet, so to speak. The story cycles from past to the present and then back again, layering truth over truth until, by the final pages, you think maybe you know the truth. But really, how well does any child know the truth of her parents’ lives? And it is that questioning, the impossibility of her quest, that makes this memoir so wonderful. So very wonderful. For me there were so many things I found myself connecting with. She mentions lilacs very briefly and I am reminded immediately of a paper I wrote about Walt Whitman’s use of lilac imagery in his poetry. In one panel she describes the various scents that assault the nose on a typical New York City street and I am smiling, nodding, remembering. References to Nixon, to commercials, to fashion statements . . . everything sounded like something I knew personally, intimately. When she points out to her parents that girls wear hiking boots in Switzerland to persuade them to buy her a pair I am reminded of my mother saying that girls don’t wear high top Converse sneakers. (Notice, getting a pair of these is on my list of 101 Things . . . I still want a pair of what girls don’t wear. And now with my vertigo and my need to wear flats constantly, I have an argument for not only wearing them but needing to wear them.) I could go on. Easily. Endlessly. But I shall stop exuding. Great graphic memoir. Amazing story. Wonderfully told. Highly recommended. I'll definitely reread it before the book group meets to discuss it.

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