Like Chaos Never Happens if it’s Never Seen

In the 2006 Tragicomic, Bechdel describes her father’s death as ‘queer in every sense of that multi-valent word.’ The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘queer’ as a colloquial term for a homosexual first used in the LA Times in 1914. ‘Queer’ also is an adjective for strange, odd, peculiar, and eccentric, and can be traced all the way back to William Dunbar’s collection of poems in 1513. Certainly, the story depicted by Bechdel’s graphic memoir is as complex (if not more) as she initially suggested.

Bechdel wonders about the motivations for her father’s death, suggesting that it was suicide, but not entirely ruling out the possibility of misfortune while gardening (89). She also entertained the idea that he may have timed his death, so his life could fully parallel F. Scott Fitzgerald’s. In the very next panel, claims that she is reluctant to take on that version of his death due to the ‘tenuous bond’ that would have to be severed if she truly believed his death was unrelated to her (87). Even if it causes guilt, it seems that Allison would rather have that connection to her distant father than not. That craving for love and approval is not surprising!

The first two chapters of this graphic memoir depict the strain between the other Bechdel family members, a subject that is explored more in depth with the origins of Helen and Bruce’s relationship. As mentioned previously, Bruce’s obsession with Fitzgerald began to bleed into his everyday language and interactions with Helen, but didn’t last long into their marriage. In Bechdel’s retrospective analysis, Bruce’s ability to subtly parallel Fitzgerald’s and Jay Gatsby’s (65) life allowed him to suspend his reality. Fitzgerald and Gatsby’s lives didn’t end in a picturesque manner though, and I suppose Bruce realized his fantasy had to end at one point or another. Allison notes that their home on Maple Avenue was actually a place where children lived, not just a place frozen in time with children as props. Allison noted that her father constantly attempted to make their family seem perfect, but as Allison learns more about her father’s affairs with young men, such as Roy, Bruce’s attempts to perfect their family starts to crumble even more. Helen’s disapproval of Allison’s sexuality may stem from her strained relationship with Bruce, and the multiple love affairs Helen internalized until it led to their inevitable divorce. Bruce intended to paint a picture perfect life for his family, but executed it poorly. To him, ‘everything is balanced and serene, like chaos never happens if it’s never seen.

I’ve grown to love the house on Maple Avenue over the years.  Jeanine Tesori, the composer of the Broadway productions Thoroughly Modern Millie and Shrek the Musical (I know, the Shrek industry has gotten out of hand… but Sutton Foster is one of my favorite actresses, and she originated roles in both shows!), also wrote the music for the off-Broadway production in 2013, which was my first interaction with Fun Home. Some reviews I used to read for the show would simply call it a nice “lesbian musical”, which is true in to a degree, but as we’ve explored time and time again, unfair to simply categorize it as a “lesbian musical”. There is beauty in having an award winning show with an openly butch lesbian as the protagonist (increasing visibility is awesome!) but the plot and themes of Fun Home are more about the intersecting themes of her sexuality, relationships to others, and the natural consequences of certain actions.

Questions:

  1. Bruce dies while working in the garden of a farm house he was planning on restoring. Is there significance in this particular detail of his death, even if this book is meant to be a memoir?
  2. At the beginning of chapter three, Allison is finally able to conceptualize and vocalize her sexuality in college. While the environment she was in while in college was more conducive to her learning about herself and her sexuality, she was still able to recognize the differences between who she wanted to be
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