In Fun Home, a visual/poetry memoir, Alison Bechdel describes and reflects on her relationship with her complicated and secretive father. This memoir winds through her early childhood till her college years, ending with her father’s death that may or may not have been a suicide. This question is never clearly answered, though Bechdel seems to believe that his death was intentional on his part. There are several crucial layers to this complex story that form Bechdel’s honest language and images.
Geography: Bechdel struggles to understand her father and the choices he made throughout his life. Much of this struggle reveals itself by a sort of “mapping” she makes of her father’s life. Through both physical maps, detailed accounts of family vacations, and her constant scrutinizing of family photographs it feels as if she is trying to figure out why he chose the path that he did, and what, if anything, it has to do with her own “mapping.” She writes, “In the end, although the anonymity of a city might have saved my father’s life, I can’t really imagine him anywhere but Beech Creek” (Bechdel 144). And preceding an image of her and her father planting a tree, she says, “But my father was planted deep” (Bechdel 145). There could be the impulse to “revise” the story, get lost in whatifs, which Bechdel certainly does by way of saying that a different location would have resulted in a different outcome, but, as she shows, those sort of indulgences in alternate placing doesn’t really get us all that far.
Outing: In many ways, this essay is a way to bring a connection with Bechdel’s coming out to her father’s (whom she outs posthumously). She learns many secrets about him preceding his death and afterwards. She learns some of her father’s truths. This comes through both her mother’s comments and reflections the author has as she looks back at conversation she had with her father. He even compares the two of them several times, “I’m bad. Not good like you” (Bechdel 153). The becomes almost an epitaph of sorts as Bechdel ties her acceptance of her sexuality with her father’s inability to accept his own.
This story could be considered a tragedy, and even Bechdel herself calls it a “tragicomic.” But is it? Her ending doesn’t feel tragic. It feels redemptive and accepting: “But in the tricky reverse narration that impels our entwined stories, he was there to catch me when I leapt” (Bechdel 232). And he did, in Beech Creek, where she was making her jump.