Last Updated on September 4, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 514
Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home travels substantially through time. At the beginning, Alison is a child, playing with her father, Bruce, by being lifted into the air on his feet. As she reflects, she thinks about Greek mythology and compares herself, playing airplane, to Daedalus's son Icarus, who died from flying with his father's handmade wings. She describes what it was like in their household, growing up with a father who was constantly trying to fix the house and its furniture. Bruce had a strong urge to play his part as a father in a happy family and showed it by spending his energy on obsessively restoring the house, involving the children in helping. Alison compares him to Martha Stewart. Readers learn that Bruce killed himself while Alison was in college but that she missed him even while he was alive—"ached as if he were already gone."
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Alison then explains everything she knows about Bruce's death. It cannot be proven, for example, that he killed himself, but she had just come out as lesbian a few months before, and her mother had filed for divorce only two weeks earlier. Alison's mother tells her that Bruce's suicide was something he always "meant to do." Alison describes how her parents started dating through letters and then moved to Europe before returning to Beech Creek, near where they live now and near where Bruce is now buried.
Bruce inherited the funeral home, which is where the title of the memoir comes from, and the children had a flippant attitude to the family business. Alison notes, after Bruce's death, how she and her father were similar—she had come out, and they both loved books. She also felt pressure to express masculinity, as Bruce tried to get her to express his own buried femininity in ways like wearing dresses. She saw a butch woman at a diner with her father once, very young, and stared at her, as her father asked if that was what she wanted to look like.
As he was raising his family, Bruce was having sex with men, some of them very young. While both her parents were frustrated with their artistic pursuits, things came to a head when Alison was thirteen: Bruce offered a beer to a boy and had to see a therapist, while her mother, Helen, had her thesis soaked when it was due. Alison remembers when they took a trip to New York and her father left to go out in the city while his children slept. From college, she tried to stay in touch with him through letters.
Toward the end of the book, Alison recounts a haunting scene in the car with her father. We see a telephone wire above them as she tries to connect with Bruce over their both being gay (after he has told her stories about dressing in girls' clothes and kissing boys), but he does not respond. She remembers diving off the diving board as a child and her father catching her, referring back to the first image of the book.