Book 412: Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel

Bechdel, Alison - Are You My MotherAfter re-reading Fun Home for book group I dove right into the follow-up Are You My Mother? As much as I enjoyed it and ultimately identified with it, it didn’t live up to the magical experience of Fun Home. It’s hard to say whether this lack of magic was a result of the intense navel gazing or the less compelling surface emotional story. To be honest it could be the daughter identifying with mother as this is an experience/story that I will never experience in the same way.

This being said, the story was still eloquently and humorously told! The graphics were just as poignant and detailed as those in the original. I enjoyed the complete color shift from the green-gray to the red, especially when Bechdel revisited scenes from her earlier work and the emphasis changed slightly. The book list in Are You My Mother? wasn’t quite as long as Fun Home but it was still pretty impressive at 38 separate works listed.

Where I most enjoyed and identified with the work was through Bechdel’s metaphysical journey in becoming herself as a separate entity from her mother. I do wonder, however, if this is why this graphic novel wasn’t as successful as the first. (Was it?!) She spends most of the novel talking about numerous psychoanalysts and her interactions with her own therapists and as interesting as this was it internalized so much of her journey in this story.

“Language was our field of contest, and however unconsciously, I had indeed been provoking my mother.” (178)

I know I need to stay FAR away from some of the books she listed as I could easily see myself going down a similar, perhaps deeper and darker, rabbit hole. One in particular, Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child, sounds like it could be incredibly interesting, but like it could also curse anyone who reads it. I don’t know if I’m that prepared to face the issues I have with my mother head on. One day perhaps, but not in the immediate future.

Even with all of the mama-drama (ha! I’m such a nerd) and other issues she had in her life, Bechdel kept it relatively light with one liners like these:

“It’s a psychic diaper change in which my rejectamenta are met without revulsion.” (82)

“To be a subject is an act of aggression. I put the odds on a psychic deathmatch between Attila the un and Virginia Woolf at fifty-fifty.” (258)

2015 01-17 Bechdel Wears Crocs
For some reason it made me laugh when I saw Bechdel wearing Crocs in this panel. They are hella comfy, but no one admits to wearing them outside of the house!

I snorted when I read the deathmatch line. I’m not sure I have that much faith in Woolf, but I’d definitely give her credit in that battle. I’m just not as familiar with her as Bechdel is.

The last thing I really enjoyed was that her mother was a part of the journey. As Bechdel discovered what she was looking for she shared it with her mother via Fun Home and through her research and writing of this work. It was a great end to the memoir and I have no idea where she’s going next, but I hope she does something soon!

Recommendation: Even though it wasn’t as great as Fun Home, I have a feeling this one will stay with me just as long. Bechdel’s relationship with her mother and the ensuing journey they took seems eerily similar to my experience with my mother. Perhaps I’m just projecting or over-empathizing, but this one definitely hit home.

Opening Line: “While engaged in some sort of home-improvement project, I inadvertently block my exit from a dank cellar.”

Closing Line: “She has given me the way out.” (Not whited out as this is a work of nonfiction.)

Books Listed or Drawn in Are You My Mother? (An asterisks [*] denotes a book I read before I started blogging; page number in parenthesis)

  1. Don Giovanni – W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman (285)
  2. Love Lyrics – Anne Bradstreet (173)
  3. The Works of Anne Bradstreet – Anne Bradstreet and Jeannine Hensley (ed.) (196)
  4. Holistic Health Handbook – Berkeley Holistic Health Center (48)
  5. The Garrick Year – Margaret Drabble (93)
  6. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier (93)
  7. The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud – Sigmund Freud and A.A. Brill (ed., tr.) (46)
  8. The Interpretation of Dreams – Sigmund Freud (42)
  9. The Psychopathology of Everyday Life – Sigmund Freud and James Strachey (ed.) (46)
  10. The Feminine Mystique – Betty Friedan (172)*
  11. Fodor’s Central America – Fodor’s (192)
  12. Four Archetypes – C. G. Jung and Gerhard Adler (tr.) (80)
  13. The Royal Family – George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber (234)
  14. Écrits – Jacques Lacan and Bruce Fink (tr.) (253)
  15. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis (87)*
  16. The Drama of the Gifted Child – Alice Miller (53)
  17. The World of Pooh – A. A. Milne (55)*
  18. The Miser – Molière (209)
  19. Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath – Kate Moses (172)
  20. Blonde: A Novel – Joyce Carol Oates (67)
  21. A Widow’s Story – Joyce Carol Oates (66)
  22. On Kissing, Tickling, and Being Bored – Adam Phillips (253)
  23. Winnicott – Adam Phillips (198)
  24. The Journals of Sylvia Plath (my guess) – Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (ed.) (29)
  25. Blood, Bread, and Poetry – Adrienne Rich (186)
  26. The Dream of a Common Language – Adrienne Rich (170)
  27. On Lies, Secrets, and Silence – Adrienne Rich (170)
  28. Winnicott – F. Robert Rodman (277)
  29. Dr. Seuss’s Sleep Book – Dr. Seuss (131)*
  30. A Little Night Music – Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler (211)
  31. Poems, Poets, Poetry – Helen Vendler (172)
  32. A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White (184)
  33. The Piggle – D. W. Winnicott (154)
  34. The Diary of Virginia Woolf – Virginia Woolf and Anne O. Bell (ed.) (17)
  35. Moments of Being – Virginia Woolf (17)
  36. Mrs. Dalloway – Virginia Woolf (27)*
  37. A Room of One’s Own – Virginia Woolf (170)
  38. To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf (17)

10 thoughts on “Book 412: Are You My Mother? – Alison Bechdel”

  1. I’ve been meaning to read Fun Home for ages now, and it fell off my radar. I’ll have to give it, and probably this one, a shot. The fact that they both have so many references to other books really sweetens the pot. That always makes me a bit giddy when I see it.

    Liked by 1 person

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