I don’t think I have read a comic book / graphic novel since the first volumes of Maus and I only read this one because it was sent to me. It’s very good and at a basic level impressive for the sheer scale of the project which has been completed: hundreds of line drawings across 232 pages. I suppose the book belongs to the genre of Secrets & Lies.
There are two basic rules of parent-child relationships: no child shall die before both of their parents are dead; no parent shall die before their youngest child has passed their eighteenth birthday. Alison Bechdel’s father does not violate the letter of the second rule, but he violates the spirit, getting killed by a truck (or killing himself in front of a truck) when Alison is still at college and when there are still may unresolved issues between them, not least her fairly recent discovery that her father has frequent sexual flings with boys and young men (the age range is a bit unclear, but seems like 16 – 21). She has recently come out to her family as a lesbian (in theory) and is just braving the passage to becoming a lesbian (in practice).
Her family situation is odd and is presented in great detail: her father is obsessive about numerous projects, many of them concerning their home. He is emotionally distant. He runs a part-time funeral home (hence the book’s title) and his children are on intimate terms with dead bodies, embalming fluid and such like. The father also teaches and the mother, who comes and goes a bit in the book and is also distant, studies. This is a family where everyone is always busy.
The text is a plain narrative which reads as both diary and public confession. It has a sort of and then and then and then character which means that the reader feels free to stop and put down the book whenever. Instead of dialogue, we have drawn speech bubbles. I think I read all of them, so the arrangement is clearly working. The book takes its time to expound the themes which Bechdel wants to present, and is often funny as well as probing.
I think it works and I’m glad I read it.