Normally I don't like graphic novels, unless of course they were written by [author:Herge] or they contain Asterix and Obelix, and I did put off reading this for a while but I must say that I was presently surprised. I think I understand why this was included on the reading list of a coursera course that I did (called The Modern and the Postmodern) because one of the themes that this novel deals with is the question of what is really real. While I would consider it literature, Bechdel is not doing anything necessarily new, particularly since Herge had previously been down this road. However, the dark and narcissistic undertones of this novel do bring out the counter-cultural nature of the American underclass.
This is what I would call gay literature, another form of literature that generally does not appeal to me. Bechdel (and this is an autobiography) goes on an exploration of gay literature in this novel, though it is something that I am very much unlikely to do. The gay counter-culture is something that simply does not appeal to me, and that is probably because I know that I am heterosexual and I am comfortable with it. I guess one comes to that understanding when one lives with homosexuals, has homosexual friends, and also realises that the only sex one enjoys (not that I have experimented with homosexual sex because, as I have said, it simply does not appeal to me) is sex with a woman. I guess one also understands ones sexuality when a homosexual tries to goad you into that lifestyle and instead of flying off the handle and getting all defensive, one simply shrugs ones shoulders and says 'yeah, whatever'.
This is also what I would consider to be post-modern literature. There is not necessarily a defined beginning nor is there a defined end, and the novel does not flow in a teleological sense, that is from the defined beginning to a defined end. Rather the novel seems to gravitate around three important events in Bechdel's life: her father's death (and the uncertainity as to the nature of the death, namely whether it was a suicide or an accident), her coming out as a lesbian, and the discovery that her father is a closet homosexual.
If the novel does move in a certain way it is more in the nature of the literature that she reads because the numerous books that she devours are a major point of the novel. Her father was an English teacher, as well as running a funeral home (and being in a small Apalacian town, business was not booming, meaning that her father could have a second job), and as a hobby he would restore Victorian homes. However, it is the books that are the major point of this novel, with Proust regularly appearing amongst the other books. However the climax of the novel comes with her reading Ulysses, but not understanding it. As well as drifting into the world of James Joyce, we also drift through the world of F Scott Fitzgerald, the novelist that her father based his life upon (even to the point of dying almost at the exact same age that Fitzgerald died).
The idea of reality is also something that permeates this novel, but the nature of reality is that it is not really real. When Bechdel speaks of her diary she tells us how she would insert the words 'I think' almost continually through the accounts of her life. However as her diary progresses, and the I thinks become more frequent, they change from being words to becoming a symbol, and in the end the symbol simply drowns out the words on each of the pages. As such, the idea of 'I think' is in essence Bechdel suggesting that what she perceives is only something that she perceives, and the reality that she is experiencing is only something that she experiences. In essence, by adding 'I think' to the end of every sentence, and then using the symbol to dominate the page, drowns out the reality of what she is writing. The reality ceases to be real, and moves into the real of the subjective. This is not opinion, for opinion is more based on belief, the subjective has an element of perception to it, which brings it out of the realm of opinion and into the realm of the real, but there is enough doubt about it to say that it is not really real (or only real to the perceptor).
There is probably quite a lot more that I can write about this book, particularly in regards to how Bechdel and her father are in many ways opposites but in many ways similar. Bechdel allows her world to flow around her, and the only person that she seeks to mould is herself. Her father, on the other hand, as indicated as being a tyrant at the beginning, seeks to mould the world around him to suit himself. I guess that comes out with his desire to restore Victorian homes. He hides his homosexuality, while trying to make Bechdel as feminine as possible. Bechdel accepts her father's homosexuality, and explores her own homosexuality, and refuses to let any others interfere. I guess that is why she throws away the hair clip that her father gives her, not because she doesn't want to be feminine (which she doesn't) but because she does not want her father to determine her life.
Wikipedia describes this novel as a spiral. It does not start at a specific point and move to the end, but rather it starts at the fringes and moves deeper and deeper into the lives of Bechdel and her family. It is, in a way, Bechdel exploring her own self, her own thoughts, and her own beliefs, and the deeper we move into the novel the deeper we move into Bechdel's mind, and her personality. Once we have arrived at the end of the novel, we have arrived deeper within Bechdel herself, however I am loath to say that we are at the centre, because we are not. Rather we have reached a point where Bechdel refuses to let us go any further.