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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not Fun Home 2
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...
Published on May 10, 2012 by morehumanthanhuman

versus
154 of 177 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To be a subject is an act of aggression."
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...
Published on May 4, 2012 by Gregory Baird


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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is not Fun Home 2, May 10, 2012
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
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. In this book, despite the forays into the work of Virginia Woolf (which, while interesting, seem to fit least easily into what is going on), she uses mainly the language and insights of psychoanalysis and therapy to explore the ways in which her mother has hurt and empowered her. And while this book lacks none of the detailed hyperfocus on her own particular past that one would expect, it comes across as a much more universal story than Fun Home . . . about the ways in which our mothers, in general, hurt and empower us - even if the specifics of our relationships with our mothers vary from hers.

Despite Bechdel's willingness to dig deep into her own emotions, the intellectualized nature of her relationship with her mother kept me at a distance for most of the book. The book engaged my brain quite deeply (there are a few exceptions that are moving, such as the scene about midway through the book when, as a young woman, she hangs up on her mother during a telephone conversation). Then, in the last few pages, it felt as if everything came together emotionally and I was moved to tears. Rather than being a deficiency in the book, I feel as if this was close to what she must have intended. To think, and think, and think . . . and then suddenly to feel so intensely.

What a gift.
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154 of 177 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "To be a subject is an act of aggression.", May 4, 2012
This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (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. Bechdel goes to the opposite extreme as she turns her focus to the relationship she has with her mother, who is still alive and is (understandably) conflicted about Bechdel's public airing of the family laundry. But instead of the tense narrative of Home, Mother reads more like a grad student's psychology paper. We follow her to countless therapy sessions and are subjected to passage upon passage from the works of Donald Winnicott, a celebrated psychoanalyst who was influential in the fields of object relation theory and the concept of the "good-enough mother," as well as Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child. The relentless introspection feels masturbatory.

Bechdel has a history of obsessive compulsive behavior and relentless self-inspection; she has kept a meticulous diary from a young age and, during a particularly bad period of compulsive behavior, her mother had to take dictation for these diary entries in order to keep Bechdel from writing all night long. "Don't you think," she argues, "that if you write minutely and rigorously enough about your own life you can, you know, transcend your particular self?"

The problem is that all this rigorous attention to detail has the opposite effect: instead of revealing, it obfuscates. There's meat to this story that we never get to savor. Bechdel implies that her mother favored her sons over her only daughter, and her mother agrees, but we never see an example of this. Her mother abruptly stopped kissing her goodnight when she was seven years old, but this highly traumatic event ("I felt almost as if she'd slapped me") is only really used as an anecdote. Bechdel makes a passing remark that when she went off to college she and her mother "hadn't touched in years," but nothing more is said about the matter.

Instead, we get a lengthy explanation of how she wasn't breastfed because, despite efforts, she wasn't getting enough nourishment from her mother's breastmilk. This is treated like a revelation: the catalyst of a relationship defined by disappointment and a lack of intimacy. Even if it's true, Bechdel seems oblivious to the fact that countless people who aren't breastfed grow up to be perfectly fine. My mother was unable to breastfeed any of her children, yet we all grew up to have healthy relationships (despite the stormy marriage our parents had). I know, I'm simplifying the point Bechdel is trying to make, but I think it serves as a perfect example of how her intense scrutiny gets in the way of actual revelation.

There's also a distressing amount of dream analysis--a very Freudian concept to be sure, but also the most specious form of self-introspection in existence for someone as obsessively detail-oriented as Bechdel. In one of Are You My Mother's worst moments, Bechdel dreams that her therapist takes a torn pair of her pants to sew a patch on them. This is also treated as a major revelation. "You were gonna fix the tear, which maybe means tear, too! You're healing me!" Bechdel exclaims to her therapist in their next session.

Throughout, Bechdel's mother remains an enigma--a shadowy figure lurking on the periphery of a book ostensibly about her. There isn't anything to love about her as presented here, but there isn't anything to loathe either. Toward the end we discover that the mother may have perpetuated the same crimes of ambivalence and distance that were committed against her as a child and as a wife, but this all-too-brief moment is the closest we come to any actual understanding. More than anything, she seems to be a prism for other, deeper hurts. Perhaps this book isn't so much about Bechdel's mother as it is about Bechdel's constant quest to find the acceptance she didn't get as a child and to locate a proper (good-enough?) mother figure. She certainly becomes dependent on each of her successive therapists for affirmation, desperately clinging to them as maternal figures. Bechdel even professes to have come to realize that whatever it was she wanted from her mother, she wasn't going to get it. It would also explain why she selected the title of P.D. Eastman's classic childrens book when naming her new memoir.

Even if that is the point, it doesn't make for a good read. Bechdel's dogged reasoning obscures far more than it reveals. It's like when you stare at something for so long that its shape begins to lose focus and all meaning is lost. There were many times in Are You My Mother? that I wanted nothing more than to give Bechdel a good, long hug and tell her that she should try letting herself off the hook every now and then. It must be impossible to enjoy life when you spend every waking minute worriedly questioning everything. Certainly it must feel exhausting.

Grade: C
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46 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Cathartic, but only for Bechdel, June 2, 2012
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
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.

There is an exchange in the book in which her mother complains that modern authors' works are too personal, too specific. Bechdel replies, "can't you be more universal by being specific?" In this case, I must agree with her mother. I am a woman not much younger than Bechdel, and I've had a rocky relationship with my own mother since college, and yet this book is so specific, so inside Bechdel's head, that it offers me nothing. I hope writing it helped Bechdel. I hope she has gained some insight that will allow her to stop analyzing and recording her life long enough to live it, but sadly, I can't recommend this book to paying customers.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are You My Alison?, May 3, 2012
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
This is one of these books, that when it appears on your doorstep, you just cancel your plans for the rest of the day and curl up with a good reading lamp. Alison's take on motherness, therapy, envy, the insanity of memoir and the entire dreamscape of peering humanity-- it's like the ultimate bowl of congee. Everyone I talk to who reads it feels like she has pulled something right out of their own diary. I am sending a copy tomorrow to my daughter, but mine's staying close to my bed so I can keep re-reading it.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intricate and Amazing, May 17, 2012
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
Well, Bechdel's mother says it--in these pages--after previewing several chapters--of this book-- pre-publication: "It's a metabook." It's a book about--among many things--the creation of this book about her mother, and her mother is commenting on the creation of this book about her. How meta is that?

A dream sequence opens each section, and is usually revisited with greater insight later in the chapter. Psychology and psychoanalysis play a massive role here, with Alison's sessions with two different counselors giving us an intimate and ongoing look into her personal struggles. Parallel to this is her self-imposed (and almost obsessive) study of the work of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. His books, his papers, his biography--all give her another lens to view her conflicted and evolving Self through.

Another Bechdel feature is how she refers to and draws on other literature and writers: Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, and a fabulous aha moment with Dr. Seuss.

And mom. A gifted actor, a stunted writer of poetry, a woman married for many years to a closeted gay man, and a mother who learned from her own mother that "boys are more important than girls." There are some heartbreaking moments here (I won't share and spoil it). At times mom seems to purposely seek to diminish her daughter by referencing other authors, other memoirists, or other cartoonists, understandably triggering envy. And sometimes she seems to do this unconsciously. Not sure which feels worse when you are on the receiving end. On the other hand, there is absolutely a bond here. The two speak often by phone, visit, do a trip to the city together. So in their own ways, they do keep trying.

The book itself slips back and forth through time, and it's confusing at first to feel rooted in the narrative. Younger Alison looks very much like older Alison; a couple girlfriends look similar, even the two therapists resemble each other. Sometimes the action focuses on Fun Home, her earlier book about her father, and sometimes it's centered on this book-in-the-making. It keeps folding in on itself again and again, then opening back up, only to be refolded another way, like origami. Next thing you know, you have a beautiful and intricate crane. It all comes together in a spectacular way, so stay with it.

I've got to comment on the artwork. As I mentioned, each section opens with a dream. They end with a tight close-up in a thick black frame. The details in the cartoons--the personal artifacts on her desk, the tree outside the therapist's window, the book and movie titles--are worth slowing down for. And I love the addition of color here! All red and variations of that color. Bloody reds, clotted reds, muddy pinks, muted mauves, all very effective. When Alison talks to her mom on a land line, it's red like a Cold War presidential hotline linked to Russia.

It can't have been easy to write a book about someone you love who is still living. Her mother's sense of privacy is embedded in many of these pages, and this is a relationship that they are both continuing to co-create, off the page. This isn't a revenge memoir by any stretch. It's very thoughtful, very careful, and very brave. I'm sure it treads a space that makes both mother and daughter a little squeamish, at times. Ultimately, it's a loving exploration that ends on a sweet and generous note. I loved it. I even loved the dedication.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Kind of a disappointment -- and I almost feel guilty saying that, May 26, 2012
This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
I recently read Bechdel's _Fun Home_ and it simply blew me away. It happens to be a graphic novel (and the art is first-rate) but it could just as easily have been a text-only memoir about the author's early years in what we refer to in shorthand as a "dysfunctional family," and it would have been equally successful. Alison and both her parents were/are intellectuals -- widely read, heavy theater-goers, at home with literary analysis, and with a tendency to think deeply about things. Her father was also an abusive bisexual who had run-in with the law and who eventually committed suicide-by-bread-truck -- probably. Alison herself discovered at the end of her adolescence that she was a lesbian, though in retrospect the clues were pretty obvious in her earlier life. That first book was her attempt to explain, or perhaps to liberate herself from her father and his memory and the result was nuanced and deeply insightful.

When I learned of this new sort-of sequel, I grabbed it immediately, but, . . . well, it isn't the same sort of book at all. And while certain parts of it are equally fascinating, I'm not sure I can consider it a success. For one thing, it's only partly a parallel to the first book as an attempt to explain the author's mother (who is still alive and kicking). It's actually, perhaps mostly, an overview of the life and ideas of Donald Winnicott, an innovative British psychoanalyst who lived until 1971 but whose roots were deep in the Freudian Golden Age and whose field of study was small children and the ways they relate to the objective, external world. Another major theme is the author's progress through a lifetime of analysis therapy herself, during which she sometimes comes off as more the analyst than the patient. And another is her struggle to write _Fun Home_, which cost her a great deal of psychic sweat -- especially trying to get her mother to accept the idea. And yet another theme is Virginia Woolf, whose novels and essays Bechdel obviously thinks very highly of, especially _To the Lighthouse_.

Part of the problem is me. I have a good education, several degrees, and more than three decades of experience as a librarian, which means a broad knowledge about a variety of fields of thought and endeavor. Among many other things, I've read most of the essential works of Freud and Jung over the years -- and however hard I try, I've just never been able to accept that sort of thing as having an real-world validity. So much psychoanalysis, especially of the Freudian variety, seems forced and self-indulgent. That's true of most of the insights (. . . I'm trying hard not to go back and put that word in quotes . . .) that Alison apparently reaches, too. I mean, what exactly is "the True Self" supposed to mean, anyway? Is patching a hole in a small kid's jeans really "an act of renewal and transformation"? When my mother did that, it was a act of budget-management, and I think I knew it.

Sorry, it just all seems a stretch to me, and it makes the author seem to be somewhat in the throes of an odd sort of addiction. For all those reasons, this book just doesn't grab hold of my mind and heart the way the first one did.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A plunge into Alison's mind, May 8, 2012
By 
Andy Shuping (White River Junction, VT USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
First off "Are You My Mother" is nothing at all like "Fun Home." So if you've come looking for that same type of feeling when reading, just go and reread "Fun Home." If on the other hand, you're looking for a book that will make you think and rethink and give you some insight into Bechdel's life, then pick this one up. And then read it and then reread it again to let things sink in. And then reread it a few more times to see what you missed.

Unlike "Fun Home," which focused primarily on Bechdel's relationship with her father, "Are You My Mother" is focused primarily on Bechdel's examination of herself. Yes, her relationship with her mother plays a crucial role in the book, but more than anything it's a starting point for Bechdel to examine her life, the decisions she's made and how she got there. In many ways this book is an examination of self, of the inner psyche and how it functions. Bechdel takes us on a nonlinear journey of her life, how her mother has impacted decisions she made and impacted how Bechdel feels about herself--seemingly overwhelmed with the world around her, and it's also Alison's search for those that she wanted as a mother (hence the title), those that would provide her with the love and the encouragement that she so desperately wanted and needed.

Bechdel depends heavily on psychology in this book, sometimes a bit too heavily, to analyze her dreams, her relationships, and the paths that she's taken in life. At times it almost feels like we need a psychology textbook next to us to understand some of the terms and definitions she tosses us and at other times it feels like we are reading a textbook and sometimes overwhelming in cases. It's the one reason why I marked the book down to four stars is that I often felt like I was getting lost in a psychology class that I didn't sign up to take. And yet...the psychological elements in the book provide insight into how Alison sees herself, which is what book is really about. It's her journey, perhaps even a healing process, to help her understand herself and the world that she lives in. In many ways the book reminds me of "Stitches," another artists attempt to use a book for healing.

Bechdel's artwork is still powerful and beautiful. Continuing to use the pen and ink and blue gray inkwashes she used so effectively in "Fun Home," Alison adds a new twist with using red ink washes to give in greater depths to the images that she draws. Her characters come to life, often seemingly to move of their own free will and in the scenes when Alison plunges into deep waters it feels like we're there with her. And I've always loved how she has the ability to capture facial expressions, especially with the young children in the books. You can feel the joy, the confusion, and the sadness coming off of the pages.

This is probably one of the most complicated books I've read in a long time. It's one that I had to stop every so often and go back and reread pages to see what I missed. And it's going to be a book that's going to be difficult to recommend because the psychological analysis is going to make people uneasy as we plunge into Alison's mind to see how she sees the world. And yet I'll recommend it anyway and it's one that has a permanent spot on my shelf.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bechdel's Back!, May 3, 2012
This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
Was waiting for this for really a long time, and I can say: success! She does it again, only this time she does it even better. I loved Fun Home, don't get me wrong, it was an eye opener and secured Ms Bechdel a niche not a lot of graphic novelists go to - with Are You My Mother? she goes more "drama" then she goes "comic", but the unmissable Bechdel stamp is still there. The book is a page turner, but far from being an easy read. As with Fun Home, I'm absolutely sure I'll be reading this again and again to get to the bottom of things. The only problem I have with it (also why I deduced a star there) is sometimes it seems too self-therapeutical for my taste, which comes from my belief art cannot serve as therapy. To be fair: she surpasses this, and holds her ground from start to end equally firmly. The dramaturgy of the book as a whole is better then Fun Home, much cleaner, very to the point, the order leaves no doubt and it's obvious that it has been heavily thought through. After Craig Thompson's Habibi, another great work in the graphic novel department. Kudos to the author - and an absolute must read suggestion for you.
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18 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Literary & Literally Graphic, May 5, 2012
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This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
Mr Baird's is the review I wish I could have written. I eagerly anticipated Bechdel's newest book, but was a bit overwhelmed by the sadness, the depth and the obscure vocabulary. Reading it was confusing, I felt as though I needed a graduate school professor nearby to explain some concepts to me and very often wished I too could give her a hug, cry with her or make her laugh over some silly joke.

Regardless, I still love Bechdel's art, her drawing style, all the excellent details and her thoroughness in capturing facial expressions. That I am not literary enough or educated enough to review the aspects of the book where she speaks about the writings of Woolf, Miller and Winnicot should not scare other Amazon buyers off. This book is heavy with meaning, dream/personal analysis and self-introspection and I will read it again and again until I can understand it better. It's like reading Beowulf when you're only used to reading Cosmo magazine. Like reading Feministing.com when you're used to reading TMZ.com. Sometimes skimming news headlines, reading dumbed-down news articles on Yahoo or watching too much reality TV makes the brain soft. Bechdel, on the contrary, is a mental & emotional challenge. Look over any of her DTWOF comics and you'll see some of that introspection & political depth there as well; she's only exposing more of it in her latest book.

I admire her courage in examining and publishing yet another book about her life. May she continue to publish more, may she feel purged like Woolf and may she find happiness and healing.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars This Unhappy Family is All Alike, August 30, 2012
This review is from: Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (Hardcover)
This heavy, unfocused, somewhat dreary "graphic memoir" (I suppose that must be the term) contains no actual story, unless you find plot and drama in the account of someone else's largely uneventful psychoanalysis. (It wasn't uneventful for Bechdel, of course, but that is precisely the point. Bechdel makes quite clear in Are You My Mother? that she believes the specifics of individual suffering can be transformed by art into a universal message--a belief shared by thousands if not millions of other writers whose work similarly misfires. Unfortunately, though that solipsistic strategy may be a necessary condition for certain kinds of creative writing, it is not a sufficient one, and Bechdel's suffering remains essentially meaningless to anyone who isn't Bechdel, as do the constant, intrusive snippets from Freud, Winnicott, Melanie Klein, Alice Miller, Adrienne Rich, and Virginia Woolf. In fact, all that obsessive quoting (because you *must* understand, don't you see, precisely what Bechdel was thinking about her relationship with her mother at every single moment in her various therapies) gives the project a sense more of commonplace book than of memoir, of bellybutton-gazing more than enlightenment, of obsessive, not entirely consensual "sharing" of family minutiae more than a careful writer's judicious sifting of experience. Bechdel's fairly benign relationship with her fairly benign mother remains an entirely internal drama that Bechdel tries womanfully to render external (here's the gist of it, and spoiler alerts aweigh: they have boundary issues). Her mother is not crazy or violent or blatantly neglectful enough to have been a monster or an eccentric; in fact, her major sins seem to have been two: first, she was a textbook narcissist and, second, she wasn't wild about the idea of having a lesbian daughter. So, as they say, sue me. What becomes painfully clear is that Bechdel was trusting in some sort of Tolstoyvian grace note to redeem this sprawling, unfocused, and occasionally incomprehensible memoir (on the theory that her unhappy mother-daughter relationship must have been uniquely unhappy, but it wasn't; it was just normally unhappy). Alternatively, what may be true is that all the genuinely interesting family weirdness and psychopathology resided in her father--presumably closeted and presumed suicide--who is the subject of Bechdel's fertile and rather brilliant Fun Home. What Fun Home also had going for it, it's worth saying, is that it was sweetly, ironically, bitingly funny; despite its subtitle ("A Comic Drama"), the lack of any discernible sense of humor menaces Are You My Mother? like a squall line. Alison Bechdel is so smart and so talented and so young (as seasoned writers go; she's barely in her fifties), and she's only going to get better. Here's hoping, with this book, that she's finally gotten her family out of her system.
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Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel (Hardcover - May 1, 2012)
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