FUN HOME: A Family tragicomic

ALISON BECHDELfun home

Bechdel writes some of the most thoughtful graphic novels and graphic memoirs of our time. Fun Home is her dealing with her father’s closeted  homosexuality and her less than great childhood. The hopelessness of this desire is deepened by the fact that Bruce Bechdel was hit by a truck and killed shortly after his daughter wrote her parents a letter that announced, “I am a lesbian.” Robert Bechdel was a funeral director (hence fun house) and high school english teacher. Alison believes his death was a suicide, brought on in part by her own confession. She draws herself beside his coffin thinking: “I’d kill myself too if I had to live here,” in small town Pennsylvania. Her father was obsessive about the house so the family lived in a virtual museum created around them and by them but with out their permission. When Alison’s room was wall papered in flowers she thought to herself how she hated flowers.

Bechel’s writing is unusual for a graphic novel. “But how could he admire Joyce’s lengthy, libidinal ‘yes’ so fervently and end up saying ‘no’ to his own life? I suppose that a lifetime spent hiding one’s erotic truth could have a cumulative renunciatory effect. Sexual shame is in itself a kind of death.”

“The sudden approximation of my dull, provincial life to a New Yorker cartoon was exhilarating.”

“Then there were those famous wings. Was Daedalus really stricken with grief when Icarus fell into the sea? Or just disappointed by the design failure?”

It is a great quick read.

LOVERS AT THE CHAMELEON CLUB

les-coupleFRANCINE PROSE

Lovers captures the bohemian art scene in the ’20s and ’30s, as well as the dark days that followed. Louisianne “Lou” Villars, a talented athlete, travels to Paris as a teenager, hoping to someday compete in the Olympics, but after her coach sexually assaults she ends up checking coats at the Chameleon Club, famed around the city for its gender-defying patrons and cabaret. She is thrilled to find out  that at the club and beyond she can dress like a man. Lou is based on Violette Morris who was photographed with her lover, became a race car driver and eventually worked for the nazis. There is a cast of characters to tell the story: the visionary and egotistical photographer Gabor Tsenyi; Lily de Rossignol rich from the auto manufacturing of her gay husband and Gabor and Lou’s benefactress; and Nathalie Dunois, Lou’s biographer. But the novel goes on too long — it would have been better if it had been better edited but still worth the read.

le-monocle-via-civilly-unioned

HOW ABOUT NEVER – IS NEVER GOOD FOR YOU? My Life In Cartoons

neverBOB MANKOFF

When I first ordered this book I thought it would be mostly cartoons instead it is a musing on the nature of humour mixed with a mass of cartoons. It is also a memoir of Mankoff’s development of cartooning skills and style.  Mankoff submitted hundreds of cartoons to The New Yorker before selling one. He was a freelancer for the magazine for 20 years before stepping into the cartoon editor’s shoes. Like most of the New Yorker cartoons the humour is dry but there are many that are laugh out loud funny. His motto is  “Anything worth saying is worth saying funny.” A great motto.never2

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY

fryRACHEL JOYCE

“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday,” reads the first sentence of Pilgrimage. Fry is a milquetoast of a man, retired, but dresses in a shirt and tie. When the lawn is mowed he doesn’t have much to do but sit on his chair. His wife Maureen doesn’t say much except to berate him. Harold and Maureen’s marriage went stale a long time ago, to the point where Harold thinks of her as “a wall that you expected to be there, even if you didn’t often look at it.”  The letter is from a friend and co-worker Queenie who is dying at a hospice that is 627 miles north of Harold’s home near the English Channel. When Harold reads the letter, he responds with a tearful “I um. Gosh.” He writes her a postcard and walks down his road to mail it. When he gets to the first post box he decides to go to the next one. Eventually he writes her another letter saying that he is walking to see her and that she must hang on until he gets there. Fry heads out with only the clothes on his back. “If we don’t go mad once in a while, there’s no hope.” The pilgrimage changes not only Fry but also his wife Maureen, his neighbour Fox and all the people who come in contact with him along the way.

Pilgrimage is a must read. It was short listed for the Mann Booker Prize.

“… He went under the stars, and the tender light of the moon, when it hung like an eyelash and the tree trunks shone like bones. He walked through wind and weather, and beneath sun-bleached skies. It seemed to Harold that he had been waiting all his life to walk. He no longer knew how far he had come, but only that he was going forward. The pale Cotswold stone became the red brick of Warwickshire, and the land flattened into middle England. Harold reached his hand to his mouth to brush away a fly, and felt a beard growing in thick tufts. Queenie would live. He knew it.”