Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Review: Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a memoir, a story of the author's life focusing on her childhood in a quiet Midwest town, living in a large, ornately-decorated Gothic revival house with her high school teacher parents and a pair (?) of brothers... Just add Bechdel to the long list of modern authors whose last names I can't pronounce. I guess I can just call her Alison, or "Al," or "Butch".

To me this book was little more than a long line of overly ornate descriptions, a bit of oddly-misplaced literary stuffiness, and, above all else, excruciatingly dragged out and overdone self analysis. Why must everything, I asked myself, from Al's childhood be analyzed through the lens of her thirty-something college-educated dykedom? That she is gay and that her father turned out to be gay as well does not strike me as the perfect opportunity for garish overstretched comparisons. And that she has read so much does not give her an excuse for stretching those comparisons really thin, to relate her life to many books of our posterity.

At some point, Alison and her brothers are taken to some construction site and given a tour. On the wall of one of the temporary huts she sees some pornography, and, feeling uncomfortable, whispers to her brother to call her Albert and treat her like a boy. What follows is an honest to goodness line from the story: "My brother ignored me, but looking back, my stratagem strikes me as a precocious feat of Proustian transposition -- not to mention a tidy melding of Proust's real Albert and his fictional Albertine." I doubled over laughing like the bitch that I am.

The story is dominated by her father, closeted of course, an OCD-type, detached and disinterested. He had a love for the ornate -- and he loved his house, he could "spin trash into gold" (and of course he gets compared to Daedalus more than once). Alison stresses how she developed a liking for the utilitarian as a result, as a kind of youth in rebellion -- unfortunately, the OCD rubbed off completely intact, and if anything, this love for the utilitarian just makes things worse.

Alison reminds me of someone: this woman who lives at the end of my street, who has sharp features, glasses, and a never-ending scowl on her face. She and her significant other, a soggy old man who seems almost friendly next to her, have spent probably thousands of hours tending to their pride and joy, their little postage stamp of a lawn. They have probably spent good money on it, too: they have had the grass professionally replaced three times (and it still looks like shit, patchy and brown). Recently (the middle of winter, I remind you) while walking the dogs, my sister had the great misfortune of walking across their tree lawn while crossing the street. The curtain snapped open and that woman, as if alerted by some sort of "neurotic Spidey Senses," snarled out at us. Luckily, I called my sister back and she stepped back into the street just in time. Flushed with triumph, I had the cheek to smile and wave. She closed the curtain shortly after. People around here have called the police for less.

Not to count out the entire legion of short-haired, glasses-wearing women out there. Some of the best people I've known have had almost no hair, and making fun of four-eyes is not polite. But Alison... to me, her mind is too narrowly fixed, and her ideas, while occasionally encouragingly relevant and on the mark (google "The Bechdel Test"), are too heavily painted by her imperfect use of words. For me they are also masked, concealed behind their creator's body and mind, which I simply cannot traverse, or even... ahem, penetrate. And so, for once it seems best to me to simply "agree to disagree" with this Alison Bechdel character (assuming she can swallow the cliche, of course :D).

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Friday, December 10, 2010

War Loses Its Romance

I'm sure it was worth it to carve every last letter into that block of stone, sitting in the Veterans Memorial outside the Lackawanna County Courthouse in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It is a quotation from Colonel John S. Mosby, famed Confederate cavalry commander, and it tells, in some way, the same sad story I've already been over in this blog when I took a look at "Dulce et Decorum Est", a poem by the British poet Wilfred Owen. But Mosby, in his way as I said, his coarse and bumbling American way, drives home the same ideals. The inscription is apparently called "War Loses Its Romance" and if all future diggers had to go on for a picture of the American Civil War was this inscription... well, they'd have a warped, insanely simplified view, as usual.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happys Thanksgivings

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! (And PS... do you have any idea how long it took for me to make this costume?)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Being There

Everything has a deep significance to me now - allegorical insight. Probably because I've been reading Being There, a short little novel by, uh, Jerzy Kosinski on which the film was based (pretty closely). I always liked the movie, at least as long as I've seen it. And the book makes me write in short, expressive sentences.

And, before you ask, no! "Chauncey Gardiner" is not a genius. He's not anything at all, except a blank piece of paper. I have had to constantly remind myself of that - it's very enticing - and I have the luxury of dramatic irony. Others, I suppose, have to be careful not to read too into it - the book, I mean. But the book itself, to me, is... well, it's not a blank piece of paper - I check and keep on checking, just to be sure - but it is also not some big monstrous allegory who only shows its tip above the waterline. It is a fun, quirky little story with just about as much depth and meaning as a blank piece of paper.

I mean, sure, it was written by somebody, and that somebody had some idea of how he wanted things to go, what he thought of the tale as a whole. And I suppose some "meaning" does peak through. For example, I have placed the name "Chauncey Gardiner" in quotation marks, because that's just what some people call him, not his real name. His real name, according to the narrator, is Chancy - because, the narrator says, his whole existence, even birth, was a matter of chance. But something strikes me as allegorical about the name - I mean, he was struck by a limousine a few minutes after leaving his garden for the first time. He was taken in by a wealthy couple and widely lauded, and had "every man's fantasy" thrown at him (not bad for a swollen calf).

Yeah, yeah... it's all blind chance, but something still scares me about him. He gardened and watched TV, and later tapped into that, the only experiences he had, to figure a place for himself in his world. When EE wants to get frisky he'd rather watch TV (therefore he is not human).

And the "Old Man"... the nearly anonymous wealthy gentleman who raised "Chancy" from an early age... I kinda hate him too. Why did he create this monster, this scarily innocent, entirely dependent creature and then release it onto the world? Why, if I didn't know better, I'd call the Old Man the modern Frankenstein, and "Chance" the Post-modern Prometheus.

The book is very similar to the movie, at least in content, but where I was inclined to laugh at the movie, at the characters' over valuing of "Chauncey's" simple phrases and the Forrest Gump-like "being there" coincidences, somehow for me the book is much more somber. Maybe it is for the simple reason of past acquaintance - I already know the setup and the punch line. Maybe it's literary pretensions, or its sparse writing - maybe it's all the essays I know exist about it. At any rate, people have found an awful lot to believe in here, apparently - even high-end scholars who say they know what they're talking about.

Well, now, I never went too far in my schooling, and so far, have resisted as best I could the temptation to look too deeply, into life and this book. We humans probe everything - many of us have a tendency to over think things. Take, for example, my dachshund Tobey - my family and I have invented an entire mythology around his past life, and his current trials in preschool. We all sometimes speak in his voice - high squeaky, maybe innocent voice - in which "he" cusses and swears and details his homosexual relations with our other dog, a chow chow named Sparky. He's the only of our pets with a real, set in stone personality and voice, and we all have strong attachment to him. He means so much to us, yet he is just a dog! He has never done any of those things.

I leave you now with a picture of Sarah, a woman who, like Chancy, was once seriously considered as a candidate for Vice President. In this painting she has a stack of pancakes on her head.