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Customer Review

55 of 68 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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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 9, 2012 8:47:43 AM PDT
Alex Knisely says:
Mrs Bechdel's response to the mirror incident surprised me as well -- but only for a moment.

Guilt, I think, at a denied wish being granted: No more baby.

Unlike you, however, I prized Alison Bechdel's glissade over the implications of her mother's act. Yet another basilisk too dangerous to gaze on directly... which brings us back to mirrors, doesn't it?

Posted on Jun 20, 2013 10:40:24 AM PDT
I had essentially the same response to the extreme focus on psychoanalysis. For example, interpreting being hit in the forehead with a branch (an event outside her control) as her subconscious telling her to "open [her] third eye"? That's not psychoanalytic; that's downright magical.

Fun Home was buoyed and maintained by the literary references and discussion throughout. Are You My Mother?, on the other hand, is dragged down and drowned by the amateur psychoanalysis.
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