THE NEWS WAS NOT RECEIVED AS WELL AS I HAD HOPED. THERE WAS AN EXCHANGE OF DIFFICULT LETTERS WITH MY MOTHER. THEN A PHONE CALL IN WHICH SHE DEALT A STAGGERING BLOW.
In Fun Home, the college-aged Alison comes out to her parents in a letter typed on a Smith Corona typewriter; she explains the choice of medium, ‘WE WERE THAT SORT OF FAMILY’ . She illustrates this same scene in two different chapters: in the first, she boldly types ‘I am a lesbian,’ a nerve-soothing cigarette smoking in the ashtray; in the second, she is turned away from the declaration-in-progress, consulting a thesaurus. Bechdel’s graphic memoir is filled with scenes of writing and with the many documents that lend shape to her family tragedy: journals, letters, photographs. Still, there are some things that this sort of family does not put in writing. Alison is frustrated by her mother’s reply to her letter, but her mother tells her on the phone: ‘YOUR FATHER HAS HAD AFFAIRS WITH OTHER MEN’. More important and more private information is conveyed through telephone wires. For the call scene, Alison assumes different postures across five comic frames, arranging her limbs between Sappho Was a Right-On Woman, Delta of Venus,and her own sketchbook on the dorm room floor. The coiled phone cord leads beyond the frame, linking her to her mother’s voice. A few pages later, another call: her mother tells Alison about needing a divorce. In the next frame, another call, two weeks later: her father has been killed by a truck.
In Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori’s musical of Fun Home, the phone conversations are still important, but brief, amidst other scenes on the temporally-fluid stage. More prominent is the second-to-last song, ‘Telephone Wire.’ Alison and her father are driving around their hometown; it is the last time they will see each other. Alison keeps coaxing herself and him to speak, ‘Say something, talk to me! / Say something, anything!’ They return home, nearly everything unsaid. In the lyrics, at the starts of her lines, Alison sings of the telephone wires strung along the road that carry all the difficult conversations that people can have when they are further apart.
by Kevin Riordan