Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Are You My Mother? - Alison Bechdel

I was introduced to Alison Bechdel, and became enamored of her vulnerability and honesty, with her graphic novel "Fun Home", which was a bit of a phenomenon in the literary world.  In publishing this book, she exorcises the demons foisted upon her primarily because of the dysfunction in her family while growing up, her father's closet tendencies, his questionable death, and her coming out as a lesbian.  I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that I was sure I'd read anything she ever published.


Synopsis:  While "Fun Home" is the story of Alison's life, with a focus on her father, "Are You My Mother?" is a type of journal...a behind-the-scenes evaluation of her state of mind while writing that book.  This time, it is focused more on the relationship between Alison and her mother.  How will her mother react to such a brutally honest expose of their lives?  Why has their relationship been so strained?  Why was her mother so distant from Alison while growing up, when she was so doting on Alison's brothers?  


Focusing her thoughts inward, Alison closely examines the works of Donald Winnicott, a famous psychoanalyst who coined the term "the good-enough mother".  She replays sessions with her two different shrinks over the years.  She meanders through the works of Virginia Woolf to study the author's relationships with her parents.  She also reveals her mother's background...a woman bursting with creativity and love of the arts, but sacrificing it all for her husband and children.  A woman who gives up the goodnight kiss and basically all touching after Alison turns seven.


My thoughts:  As much as it pains me to say this, I found this book extremely disappointing.  I admire Bechdel, and I understand what she is trying to accomplish by writing this book, but her navel-gazing and obsession with finding answers about herself and her mother is so intense and angst-ridden it's exhausting.  


When Bechdel reveals her mother's background, I was intrigued and entertained.  And a little sad, for so many reasons.  The sudden decision to stop kissing her daughter goodnight at such a young age made me want to cry.  Granted, the reader gets very little insight into what made her mother tick, but was an interesting examination of family dynamics.  And you further understand why Alison suffers so as an adult.  What became laborious was all the probing into the theories of various scientists, the dream analysis, the self-flagellation, the rolling around in the muck of unresolved childhood psychosis.  Often it is stream-of-consciousness, the train of thought wandering and alighting on any topic that has haunted Bechdel in her lifetime.  I felt bad for her, but at the same time, it was more than I signed on for when I picked up the book.  


This is not the same book that "Fun Home" was.  Not even close.  With respect to Alison, I sincerely hope that writing this book was cathartic for her.  But it is not something I would recommend.


2 out of 5 stars



14 comments:

bermudaonion said...

Yeah, I'm not into reading about other people trying to find themselves.

Julie P. said...

Oh my gosh! I am so happy that you said this because this was my first experience with her books and I didn't enjoy (or even appreciate) it at all. In fact, I decided not to even review it because I didn't think I could do a fair review.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have been so surprised by how many graphic novels are intense and angst-ridden - who knew that format would be popular for that sentiment?

Beth F said...

Phew. Okay, I've scratched this one off the list.

Zibilee said...

Ok, this is something that I don't think I will be reading. This seems more like material for a journal than for a book. I think I will just stick with Fun Home.

Literary Feline said...

That's too bad. :-( I really liked Fun Home.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

So glad you reviewed this one. I really liked Fun Home too, but I wasn't sure if I should pick this one up.

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Oh, what a shame! And I echo Jill's thoughts as well; who knew that graphic novels would be the "go-to" format for this type of angst? I've not read Bechdel before, but I'll make a note to pick up Fun Home instead.

Tasha B. said...

No one likes a girl with mommy issues. :p

caite said...

I am not a memoir fan...I find most of them bordering on the whiny...so this was not on my list.
I am sick of people blaming everything on some failure of their parents. I am sick of people thinking we should be interested in their dirty laundry.
I feel sorry for her mother.

Bybee said...

I found this one really meta, but I'm still a big fan of Alison Bechdel's work.

Jenners said...

Not for me then because I was teetering on whether I liked Fun Home

Laurie C said...

I read Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (also graphic-novel format) and thought it was incredibly intense, as well, but still really well done. I think I'll still try Are You My Mother? eventually. Do you think that reading it as a mother yourself made it more difficult to read? I read somewhere that her mother's reaction was something about her daughter's having her own way of looking at things, or something like that...

Marie said...

I agree 100%. I love Alison Bechdel but this was very disappointing for me too. I've been reading her comics since high school and I kind of wish she would go back to what she does best. This book lacked a strong plot and was a disappointing follow up to Fun Home. I actually gave up on this one and it kind of broke my heart to put it down but I just couldn't take it anymore.