Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was the most depressing book I have ever read. Now that I have your attention, let me explain what I mean. I admit that before this class, I had never heard of this book or its author. Through my own research and reading, I came to understand its significance, and I came to appreciate the excellent writing and story. The problem for me, personally, was reading about her painful and sad relationship with her father. But, it was also hard to deal with what I believe are this book’s true messages. First, the pain and torment that comes from living life as a lie, and second, the pain and suffering that comes with the loss of a loved one, and the regret of things left unsaid.
We talked about this book a lot in class. I mean a…lot. We predominately focused on the few sexual images portraying lesbianism, and the cultural backlash they ensued. This, for the record, I think is ridiculous. What was it, like three depictions total? I mean come on; I guess I can see why some right-wing Christian fundamentalist groups might be offended by it. But, if you consider what most people use the internet for, then those images are seriously not a big deal. I do not believe Fun Home should necessarily be banned, but if people are going to get upset about something in regards to this book, then why not the subjects of pedophilia and suicide instead?
Now, to be thorough, as a class we did extensively cover the topics of her father’s suicide and closeted lifestyle as a homosexual, along with his predilection towards boys and young men. We also meticulously analyzed Ms. Bechdel’s style of picture framing within the book, and how she used dialogue both as speech bubbles with the character interactions, as well as how she placed text within the gutters or alone in a frame to progress the story forward. We also briefly discussed the Ms. Bechdel character comparisons with that of James Joyce’s Ulysses, in which she casts herself in the role of Stephen Dedalus, and her father as Leopold Bloom. However, I believe so much was left untouched.
The pain and torment that is associated with living with a powerful lie, really does affect the lives of everyone connected to you. With the example from Fun House, we do see this as her father, Bruce, portrays all the telltale signs of living such a life. From his loveless and dysfunctional marriage, to his wholly unaffectionate behavior towards his three children, often leading to eruptions of abusive rage caused each of them to experience devastating emotional harm as they lived in that house day by day. Living in your own home, and never knowing how your own husband or father is going to react to something is a terrifying way to live. Essentially, all it takes is one single act, just one single moment in time, where an act of violence can do untold emotional and physical harm that will affect the rest of our lives.
While I do not presume to know how anyone outside my own house has grown up and lived, I do hope and pray that, whoever is reading this, had a happy childhood and never experienced the pain from my first point. However, when it comes to the pain and suffering that comes with the death of a loved one, and the regret of things left unsaid, sadly, we all must bear this cross at some point.
Many years ago, a friend philosophically asked me how long a person’s life is. At the time, I was in my very early twenties, starting a new career, and I was on my own for the first time. I thought about the average lifespan of people living today, and I confidently answered, “About 70 or 80 years.” He told me I was incorrect, and his explanation shocked me to my very core. I learned that day, that the length of a person’s life is only one breath. We are here one moment, and we are gone the next. That is how fragile life is. None of us knows what life has in store, and because of life’s fragile nature, we, as individuals, should strive to live rich full lives filled with happiness and love. We should never go to bed angry with our partner, or leave the house in the morning for work without an “I love you.” Nor should we live with secrets so debilitating that they affect our very nature, or the happiness and safety of our loved ones. Any one of us could be be hit by a Sunbeam Bread truck as we are crossing the street. Perhaps, one day, you might find yourself sitting next to your mother’s bedside, and she is asking you for your permission to fall asleep for the last time as she finally succumbs to cancer. It is in the aftermath of these moments, that it becomes too late to say the things we should have, but for some reason chose not to.
Whatever happens, live for the now. Try to do what makes you happy, because life is too short.