Are You My Mother?

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Are You My Mother

Summary from the publisher:

Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.

I read Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home way back in 2006 and enjoyed it immensely, but somehow its quasi-sequel passed me by (which is to say I checked it out from the library quite a few times but always ended up taking it back before I read it). While visiting family, my younger brother’s fiancée lent me the book, which I didn’t quite finish while I was in Texas but will be mailing back posthaste.

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting so much psychology and philosophy in this book, but Bechdel’s relating of her relationship with her mother to her dreams, her reading, and her sessions with her therapist are woven together in a way that gives the reader a fascinating big-picture look behind the scenes of Bechdel’s mind. It’s a book that is partially about and influenced by its own development, although the writing and publishing of Fun Home is more focused on. As someone who comes from a family with an almost miraculous lack of dysfunction, there’s not a whole lot I can relate to when it comes to the specifics of Bechdel’s relationship with her mother, but her self-doubt, her imposter syndrome, and her relentless search for a way to both process and move past those things are definitely something that resonates with me, as well as the insights into her life as a writer.

The art in this book is solid, although more incidental to the story than anything else. Bechdel’s art is good for a memoir, I think; it complements the story well and adds a layer of warmth and familiarity that would be harder to convey with words alone. She doesn’t exaggerate features for comic effect, just draws from her memories in order to share what I presume to be as accurate a record as possible. The extremely minimal use of color in the book unifies it and makes it an easy read visually.

I think, for some, this could be a painful book to read. Memoirs have the ability to bring up raw feelings in their readers, but unlike the specific childhood trauma brought up in Fun Home, the feelings Bechdel has for her mother that are laid out in this book are considerably more common. Still, I think it’s a book very much worth reading, even if you aren’t a comics reader normally.

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