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Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama [Kindle Edition]

Alison Bechdel
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)

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Book Description

From the best-selling author of Fun Home, Time magazine’s No. 1 Book of the Year, a brilliantly told graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be.

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.



Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

It's through Bechdel's exquisite visual rhymes and riffs that Are You My Mother? knits together its many strings, with profoundly pleasurable results. . . . It imprints, magnificently, a curious mind's quest to know itself. —Sara Marcus

Review

"In Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel poses an infinity of thought-provoking questions about women, literature, feminism, family bonds, psychology and the complicated relationship between therapist and patient...The book is a page turner, thanks in part to Bechdel's lovely and subtle illustrations. Bechdel's examination of her relationship with her mother also touches on the universal push and pull between mothers and children...The book's transcendent ending is Bechdel's expression of love for her own 'good enough mother.'"—USA Today

"Sad, funny, sprawling graphic memoir...An intensely personal, specific story, but Bechdel's imaginative narrative techniques make it easily as compelling as any fiction...Its stylistic flexibility accomodates more layers than any straight documentary or prose memoir could support...This work is her link in the long chain connecting her foremothers and their daughters and all of the other women who shaped her."—The Atlantic

"A staggering achievement...Although Bechdel utilizes all the features of the graphic-novel form, she is so intelligent and perceptive that this story of self-discovery (an abused term, but never more apt) would still be compelling if told only in prose...Are You My Mother? is a masterwork that gracefully documents the torture that sensitive people can put themselves through while searching for the casual movers of their lives."—The Daily Beast

"Are You My Mother? is a tremendously intimate work, more so even than Fun Home. Taken together, the two books are a practical guide to the complicated, unspoken negotiations that take place between children and their parents, those sphinxlike beings who give us life and then promptly deal us near fatal psychic wounds.Watching Bechdel dig into the underworld of her subconscious is paradoxically uplifting. The courage and rigor with which she examines her life make readers feel as if their own secrets might not be quite so unspeakable."—Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

"...Magnificent... Whatever issues Bechdel has with her mother, one always has the sense that she likes her as much as she loves her. That affection — and the real sense one gets of her mother reading these pages, running her finger over the tenderly drawn panels of their history — gives this book an urgency and an intimacy that Fun Home, in retrospect, lacked... Bechdel's triumph is not just that she's emerged from her tunnel, with weary but clear eyes, but that she's brought her mother with her. Grade: A"—Entertainment Weekly

"...Are You My Mother is as complicated, brainy, inventive and satisfying as the finest prose memoirs...The tragedy and comedy are so entwined, so gloriously balanced, the reader can't help being fascinated. The book delivers lightening bolts of revelation...I haven't encountered a book about being an artist, or about the punishing entanglements of mothers and daughters, as engaging, profound or original as this one in a long time. In fact, the book made such a deep impression on me that after reading it I walked around for days seeing little bits and snatches of my life as Alison Bechdel drawings."—The New York Times Book Review

"Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It's also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking."—Jonathan Safran Foer, author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated

"Many of us are living out the unlived lives of our mothers. Alison Bechdel has written a graphic novel about this; sort of like a comic book by Virginia Woolf. You won't believe it until you read it—and you must!"—Gloria Steinem

"This book is not so much the sequel to Alison Bechdel’s captivating memoir Fun Home, as the maternal yin to its paternal yang. Bravely worrying out the snarled web of missed connections that bedevil her relationship with her remarkable mother from the very start, Bechdel deploys everyone from Virginia Woolf to D.W. Winnicott (the legendary psychoanalytic theorist who comes to serve as her quest’s benign fairy godfather) to untie the snares of a fraught past. She arrives, at long last, at something almost as shimmering as it is simple: a grace-flecked accommodation and an affirming love."—Lawrence Weschler, author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences and Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative

"A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author’s graphic-memoir masterpiece." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"[Bechdel's] lines and angles are sharper than in Fun Home, and yet her self-image and her views of family members, lovers, and analysts are thorough, clear, and kind. Mothers, adult daughters, literati, memoir fans, and psychology readers are among the many who will find this outing a rousing experience . . . This may be the most anticipated graphic novel of the year." -- Booklist, starred review

"A fiercely honest work about the field of combat that is family." -- Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Are You My Mother? offers an improbably profound master class in how to live an examined life . . . More moving and illuminating than Fun Home." -- Elle

"The best writers, whether they are creating fiction or nonfiction, are trying to find out what makes people human for better and for worse. A taut, complex book within several books, Bechdel’s investigation of her relationship with her mother and the work of pioneering psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott offers the most articulate answer you’re likely to ingest. You’ll feel like Alice climbing your way out the jagged rabbit hole to limbo." -- Library Journal


Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not Fun Home 2 May 10, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A story about a dead parent has a beginning and an end. A story about a living parent is quite a different thing, especially if you know the parent will be reading the story and you're invested in their response. With all that, I am astonished and in awe of Bechdel's courage - not just to reveal herself so intimately, but to do the same for her relationship with her mother.

This is not Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic 2. It's much more complicated and diffuse. Bechdel's story about her father felt complete and symmetrical. This is much more distant and intellectual with the trailing off nature inherent to a story about two living people who continue to interact. Again and again we return to the image of Bechdel reading in this book . . . reading books about psychoanalysis, reading old correspondence between her parents, even reading transcripts of telephone conversations between her mother and herself (she would type what her mother was saying during the calls). She relates to her mother through reading and this central image tells us more about the brokenness of the relationship than anything else. Her mother, in return, will tell her about stories she reads in the New York Times that make her point instead of saying directly what it is she wants to say. There is little that is tactile or intimate about their relationship. The reader winds up thinking their way through the book in the same way that Bechdel has thought through her relationship with her mother.

In Fun Home, Bechdel used literature, concepts of sexual identity, and even mythology to explore and illuminate her relationship with her father.
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158 of 181 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To be a subject is an act of aggression." May 4, 2012
Format:Hardcover
Well this hurts. I wanted to love this book so much. I adore Alison Bechdel. She's incredibly smart, witty, analytical, and heartbreakingly honest--all qualities that have made Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, her first foray into graphic memoir, a modern classic. It's one of my favorite books, not to mention one of my most frequently recommended titles.

Fun Home, if you'll indulge me for a moment, is the story of Bechdel's relationship with her father and her coming out process. Her father was many things: an English teacher, a funeral home director, an antique collector, a vigilant restorer of their family home, and a closet homosexual.
Bechdel strongly suspects that his sudden, mysterious death after walking in front of an oncoming truck was suicide. He could be distant, demanding, temperamental, and cold to his family. Writing Fun Home was (I imagine) like a therapy session for Bechdel, who hadn't come to terms with what it was like to grow up in the cold, dark household her father created, and who wanted to understand why her father made the decision to hide his sexuality. It works in large part because there's automatic tension between Bechdel and her father: he being emotionally distant and firmly closeted, she sensitive and determined to live her life out in the open. The emotional journey she undergoes in the process of writing it all out is cathartic--revelatory, poignant, and beautiful.

This is not the case with Are You My Mother? It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cathartic, but only for Bechdel June 2, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I bought this book as soon as I heard about it, having been a huge fan of Fun Home. This book almost seemed to be written by a different author. The rich detail and layers of discovery in Fun Home are completely lacking. Bechdel would probably disagree. She has mini- revelations throughout the book, as she makes Freudian interpretations of her dreams, youthful decisions, and minor injuries. If you believe, like me, that sometimes a key is just a key, you'll find yourself rolling your eyes.

Presumably the book is about Bechdel's mother, whom I was certainly curious about after reading Fun Home. But the book offers virtually no insight about her mother. As Bechdel's mother comments after reviewing a draft, it's a meta-book - Bechdel is writing about her own exploration of her relationship with her mother. As a result, we learn very little about the supposed main character. Instead we get long descriptions of Bechdel's dreams as well as virtual transcripts of her therapy sessions over the past 20 years.

The few interesting anecdotes that describe Bechdels mother's parenting are, disappointingly, not pursued. For instance, when Bechdel was a toddler she wandered out of her parent's sight in their home and pulled a full length mirror down on top of her. Her mother relays that when she heard the crash she thought Bechdel must be dead and ran to the bathroom to hide. Her baby is hurt so she hides?! This is one of the few incidents that did actually make me question her mother's parenting skills, yet Bechdel fails to elaborate or question her mother about her strange instinct tor run away. I don't understand Bechdel's mother, and If Bechdel doesn't either, it's because she's not asking the right questions.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Great drawings but the memoir became boring because of its unrelenting self-absorption.
Published 6 days ago by Gloria Corbett
4.0 out of 5 stars Complex, intellectual and challenging, but very rewarding in the end
This is a complex and at times exhausting book in which Bechdel analyzes her relationship with her mother. Read more
Published 1 month ago by FryLady
5.0 out of 5 stars Flat out brilliant. Bechdel creates a beautiful tension by admitting...
Flat out brilliant. Bechdel creates a beautiful tension by admitting early in the book that it is not yet finished. Read more
Published 2 months ago by drshatterhand
5.0 out of 5 stars Another memoir triumph!
Bechdel's skill is even more cutting and refined in this sequel to her first memoir. I found myself dragging my feet about 100 pages in because I just didn't want the book to end. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Just ruined my childhood
This hit to the core. Bechdel was right when saying that by getting personal and detailed, one can tap into universality. Now, back to reading The Drama of the Gifted Child...
Published 3 months ago by Rodrigues
1.0 out of 5 stars Wallowing, wallowing, and more wallowing
Too much self indulgent, self obsessive, self absorption for my tastes. Such a disappointment. Couldn't finish the last third. Couldn't stomach any more.
Published 3 months ago by Congratulations
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Internal
While I respect was Bechdel was trying to accomplish here, she makes the reader into yet another therapist, in addition to those she has within the story. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Mark McLaughlin
3.0 out of 5 stars Heavy on the psychoanalysis
I love Alison Bechdel. "The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For" is a terrific romp through the ultra-feminist late 20th century. Read more
Published 4 months ago by W. Handy
3.0 out of 5 stars not as good as fun home
Fun home was great. This is also good, but not as. Jumps around a lot in time. But Bechdel's wonderful illustrations and characterization are as wonderful as ever.
Published 4 months ago by Liz K.
4.0 out of 5 stars Forthright, sharp-eyed accuracy
When I finished this remarkable graphic autobiography I felt raw. Alison Bechdel is almost brutal in her willingness to explore the most painfully revealing moments of her journey... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kelpie cross
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More About the Author

ALISON BECHDEL has been a careful archivist of her own life and kept a journal since she was ten. Since 1983 she has been chronicling the lives of various characters in the fictionalized "Dykes to Watch Out For" strip, "one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period" (Ms.). The strip is syndicated in 50 alternative newspapers, translated into multiple languages, and collected into a book series with a quarter of a million copies in print. Utne magazine has listed DTWOF as "one of the greatest hits of the twentieth century."

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