Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? is Intellectual and Entertaining.

Posted on May 1, 2012
Filed Under Book Review, Strong Recommendation | Leave a Comment

Are You My Mother?Alison Bechdel’s new graphic novel Are You My Mother? is very different from her first, Fun Home. Are You My Mother? isn’t as much an examination of her mother’s life as it is an exploration of the nature of motherhood itself. It is a journey through the writings of Virginia Woolf, Donald Winnicott, Carl Jung, Adrienne Rich and many others.  And while it is more challenging than Fun Home, it is also in the end, more rewarding.

For much of the book, Ms. Bechdel puts herself on the couch–literally and figuratively.  And here the humor takes on a Woody Allen-like tone.  But the humor never degenerates into schtick.  (There will be no “lobster bib” jokes in this book.)  It isn’t surprising that Ms. Bechdel goes through a few therapists.  For as she freely admits, her underlying goal is to develop the ability to analyze herself–which ultimately she achieves.  So while we follow her struggle to understand her childhood through therapy, we also follow her own discovery of Carl Jung, Donald Winnicott, Melanie Klein and Alice Miller.

Much of the humor of the book comes from dramatic irony.  In one panel:  Ms. Bechdel is in bed with a copy of Alice Miller’s The Drama of Gifted Child–deeply immersed.  Her mechanic girlfriend–seemingly oblivious to the book–is carrying on what seems to be a completely one-sided conversation.  Her caption:  “It’d be like working out of my own garage.”

Reading this amusing, highly intellectual book, it occurred to me that Alison Bechdel is a singular personality.  One can’t help but wonder if she were raised in a more conventionally happy home if she would have turned out as she did.  Fortunately we will never know.

I strongly recommend this book.

Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Are You My Mother? is published by Houghton Mifflin.

UPDATE 4/25/13:  Tonight it was announced that Are You My Mother? won Publishing Triangle’s “Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Nonfiction.”

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