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Customer Review

on May 26, 2012
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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