Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel

Reviews were so mixed on this graphic novel that I had decided not to read it, until recently when I started reading a borrowed copy and couldn’t put it down. A follow-up to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, which focused on her relationship with her father, this one turns to her relationship with her mother. And several of her therapists. Most people I know who didn’t like this book especially did not enjoy the pages of therapy sessions drawn into the story, but for me those parts fit in cleanly to the rest of the narrative.

In a similar way to Fun Home, Bechdel excerpts other texts frequently in this story, including psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, and Alice Miller, from her book The Drama of the Gifted Child. The book feels pretty dense and heady for a graphic novel/memoir. Perhaps it’s one of those situations where expecting to dislike something gave me the space to appreciate it, or just I happened to wait until the right moment where this made sense to me personally, but I read the whole thing in a day and found it interesting both in content and structure. I liked the self-referential nature of it — essentially it’s a book about Bechdel writing this book — and I liked how each chapter starts out with a dream. (But I love hearing about people’s dreams; I think most people do not.)

The book itself meanders a bit like a dream, not following a clear arc but rather sketching together about twenty years of time (plus some detours further back into childhood). Early on she includes a pictorial timeline showing which woman Bechdel was dating while she was seeing which therapist, which helps to piece the scenes together. In circling through the years, she also seems to sidestep around her true feelings, and though it’s a pretty brilliant representation of her struggle with intimacy, it may limit how easily people can feel drawn into this story.

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