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

Alison Bechdel
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 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


"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
44 of 45 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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166 of 189 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To be a subject is an act of aggression." May 4, 2012
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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54 of 66 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
1.0 out of 5 stars Not good!
Very self-indulgent. The mother in question is only a catalyst for the author to focus on her self as she seeks validation and admiration. Read more
Published 17 days ago by twocentspluschange
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book for any daughter grappling with mother-daughter issues
Extraordinary artwork supports the sometimes dense parade of ideas, especially in the psychoanalytic arena. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Anne Scott Plummer
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth a Read
A satisfying follow up to Beckdel's first memoir. The focus on psychology was an interesting but enjoyable choice for those who might be interested in the subject.
Published 22 days ago by Malic
5.0 out of 5 stars I'm a huge Alison Bechdel fan, so if you ...
I'm a huge Alison Bechdel fan, so if you are looking for an unbiased appraisal of this book, ignore this review. Read more
Published 26 days ago by Catherine S. Kemelmacher
3.0 out of 5 stars This was a terrific book -- but I must admit I loved Fun ...
This was a terrific book -- but I must admit I loved Fun House a lot more. This one is great, but it suffers from comparison to the earlier work, which just seemed more vibrant in... Read more
Published 1 month ago by C. Brantley
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book so very, very much.
Alison Bechdel is a genius! I loved this book so very, very much. It's heartfelt, honest, and rings so true about family dynamics, the life of the artist, and the struggle of being... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mesquite13
5.0 out of 5 stars I love Alison Bechdel's stuff
I love Alison Bechdel's stuff. This is more Alison's story than her mother's, but I suppose any memoir is one-sided. Loved it.
Published 2 months ago by Jane Slade
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Almost as good a fun house. A classic of the graphic novel genre.
Published 2 months ago by Robert C. La Mont
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
I didn't enjoy this book as much as her first but it's not bad.
Published 3 months ago by laura
4.0 out of 5 stars Good-bad mother!
A favorite graphic book/memoir. Maybe not quite as compelling as the earlier book about her father, but still a good look at family dynamics when there are big secrets to be kept.
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
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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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