An Artificial Life

In exploring the extant to which her father constructed his life in a deceptive way, Alison Bechdel implicates herself in the studied artifice of his life and death. Profoundly impacted by the echoes of her father’s death, Bechdel’s memories of her childhood cannot be disentangled from the circumstances that later seem to define them. Retrospectively, everything that her father says and does is shaped by his absence; in Fun Home, Bechdel questions and probes the ways in which the sense of her father’s artifice and absence could be felt during her life with him and the ways in which these impressions have been superimposed on her memories by her modern understanding of him.

In deciding that her father committed suicide, Bechdel ultimately credits her father with the greatest artifice. She questions his commitments to all that seemed important to his life, noting even the smallest details of his activities in the days leading up to his death, such as his note in a bird-watching manual: “The date is five days before he died. Do people contemplating suicide get excited about spotting rufous-sided towhees?” The apparent answer to this question, based on the symptoms of suicidal depression, seems to be “no.” However, Bechdel’s belief that her father intentionally stepped in front of the Sunbeam bread truck highlights the kind of artifice required to maintain a shallow interest in the events of daily life while harboring the intention to end one’s own life. Bechdel’s analysis of her father’s behavior leading up to his death, essentially his behavior throughout her childhood, reveals a certain propensity on her part to accept that the majority of life might be constructed from false impressions.

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