Timmy moderated the discussion at a place provided by Isaac’s company.
Our Initial Reactions to the Book
Aaron and Isaac liked the book for its literary value and complexity in negotiating binaries of fiction/autobiography, public/private and father/daughter; and Luke liked it for its MRT-friendliness; while Raj and Timmy found the book exhausting with no likable characters and its confusing narrative technique, something that Javin brought up as an authorial intention; further negative criticism both Aaron and Timmy had was that the author-narrator was egoistic and self-centred.
Timmy asked if the father’s death was a suicide. Raj said Alison thought that the father died to steal her thunder for coming out four months before his death, showing how narcissistic she was. Everything had to go back to her: “He died to steal MY thunder.” Perhaps the fact that she tried so hard to convince the readers that it was a suicide shows the kind of person she was.
2. Effeminate Gay Men
The portrayal of the dad, Aaron felt, was effeminate and negative. Perhaps Alison’s hatred for effeminate gay men was as what Melissa said on facebook, that it was a form of victim-blaming.
Aaron saw the tinseled house as Alison’s metaphor of her dad, living a lie, while both Raj and Timmy read it as the dad directing his sexual frustrations into useful work.
Timmy followed up with another question on the funeral home, linking the real home and funeral home together, signifying how two houses were funereal and showing a metaphoric death of the traditional family unit. Timmy also suggested that the term “fun home” is ironic because the real home was not fun and the term also breaks down the binary of “funeral/fun” or “death/fun.”
Timmy also brought up that house was a labyrinth, with people getting lost, and is a symbol of the characters losing their way.
4. Her Sexuality
Raj and Timmy brought up that while looking at a fashion mag, both her father and she admired the men for various reasons. Aaron questioned if she was blaming her father for her sexuality as in the comics, the author has suggested that she wanted to be a man so that the father could be interested in her. Aaron also questioned if she was a transgender, rather than a lesbian.
Timmy and Raj noted how similar the father and daughter were and Javin conjectured perhaps it was the reason of her dislike for him.
Raj didn’t think much of the drawing, saying the characters had little or no expressions, while Aaron thought the drawings depicted their emotions well by the body movements and eyes.
Timmy said the symbol of “I think” from Alison’s epistemological crisis is obviously a symbol of a vagina.
4. Unreliable Narrator & Autobiography
Using the episode on Alison’s grandmother telling her the story of how her dad was lost in the fields, Aaron questioned the reliability of Alison. For instance, the postman was changed into a milkman, and the story was overdetermined that it became mythical and unrealistic. Aaron suggested that perhaps we should read the author as wanting us to have an epistemological crisis as she was having in the book, to question everything.
Luke said that the point of the lost father was to show Alison and the readers a different side of the father.
Can we trust the book as an autobiography? Isaac claimed that the author didn’t mention this was an autobiography and we can see this as a work of art to question the notion of what autobiography is.
5. Literary Allusions
Timmy thought the literary allusions were the author showing off while Isaac thought it was her way of making sense of the world.
6. Scene: Brother Lost at Christopher Street
What is the point of the scene? Raj said it was to show the father’s concern. Aaron thought throughout the memoir, she talked about her perspective and her dad, why shift the focus to her brother? Very strange.
We liked the ending of the book as Luke succinctly put it, it was very simple, she trusted him therefore she loved him. Isaac questioned, he was there to catch her fall but who was there to catch him?
We didn’t like her much except Isaac. We all thought she was full of herself, self-indulgent (Timmy), and smarmy (Timmy) but Isaac thought her brave to write an autobiography and she shows how fragile people can be, she was screwed-up because of her dad.
Luke found the dad ambiguously portrayed. Timmy said Dad was stoic and demonized. Raj agreed with Timmy, saying that at least the father stuck around and his decoration of the house involving the children was his way of interaction and showing love for them.
Aaron saw the mother as the villain of this drama. The father was fighting his own demons and had an excuse but she had none. She could have stopped the beating of the children. She could have walked out of the marriage and supported herself, being the strong independent woman who flew to Paris to marry a man. She was nonchalant to the children’s well being.
Despite disliking the memoir, Raj, being masochistic, wanted to read her book on her mother Are You My Mother? before condemning Bechdel completely. Raj called this book a gay Persepolis. Isaac reiterated that the autobiography is self-reflexive and has universal themes of coming out that LGBT can identity with and the characters, neither fully good nor bad, perplex and frustrate the reader. Timmy was convinced by Isaac and appreciated the book more while Aaron stood by his love-hate relationship that it was a good literary book but detested the narcissistic narrator-author as he believes that values, even narcissism, are transmitted through books subliminally.