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A 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 u A 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.


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A 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 u A 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.

30 review for Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    I was a big fan of Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” when it came out 6 years ago, it was an interesting and insightful memoir about her growing up in a funeral home with a father who was secretly homosexual and would later commit suicide, and then discovering that she was gay as well. It was an excellent book that I would recommend to all comics fans but also readers in general, so I was looking forward to this follow-up, this time the focus supposedly being on her mother. What more revelations could I was a big fan of Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” when it came out 6 years ago, it was an interesting and insightful memoir about her growing up in a funeral home with a father who was secretly homosexual and would later commit suicide, and then discovering that she was gay as well. It was an excellent book that I would recommend to all comics fans but also readers in general, so I was looking forward to this follow-up, this time the focus supposedly being on her mother. What more revelations could there be? Not many as it turns out, and neither is the book particularly about Bechdel’s mum. The book gets off to an uneasy and rambling start with Bechdel bewailing a lack of clarity when writing this book. It begins with a kind of dream, then segues into the then-present (most of the mum-stuff in the “now” is set circa 2009) before going off on a tangent to Virginia Woolf and then back to her mum in the present. I waited for the book to settle down and expected Bechdel to begin telling her mother’s story which she does, in part, in between scenes where she visits a series of therapists talking about her own neuroses, and talking – and quoting at length – psychoanalysts she’s been reading. This isn’t really a memoir about her mum, it’s only one part of the book. And if we were to look only at that, we wouldn’t find much. Her mum went through spells of depression, and it can’t have been easy married to a closet-homosexual with a horrible temper, but she just isn’t as interesting a person to read about as Bechdel’s dad was. The rest of the book is mostly a mish-mash of anecdotes about psychology. Bechdel writes about various psychologists whose work has had an impact on her life, trying to get a better relationship with her mum and helping her through her tangled web of relationships with other lesbians and this part of the book, repeatedly returned to, is by far the most tedious to read. She doesn’t write about them as much as she copies out entire passages from their books, highlighting sentences here and there. Unless you have an interest in psychology – and I don’t – this part of the book is just dully academic to read. She also writes about Virginia Woolf at length, quoting “To The Lighthouse” frequently, and I have to say after reading “Mrs Dalloway” a couple of years ago, I’m no fan of Woolf. I found when Bechdel began quoting Woolf at length, coupled with the psychology textbook copy and pasting, that I was becoming even more uninterested in this book. So besides the psychobabble textbook quoting, the Woolf stuff, more psychobabble in the therapist scenes, and a look at her mother’s fairly ordinary life, what’s left? Not much I’m afraid. The structure is very wobbly, the scenes merging strangely with no real idea of what the whole is supposed to be. It’s not much fun to read and boy is it long at nearly 300 pages, made longer with the extensive psychology passages. By the end I was just glad to get it over with. Bechdel’s art is great, but the writing needed some serious editing as it’s meandering, tangential narrative is too unclear as to what it's supposed to be. It started out as a look at her mum’s life and wound up being about Bechdel’s own, frankly overblown (as Chris Rock calls them “white people problems”) neurotic sensibilities and it’s not much fun to read about her figuring them out. It doesn’t feel like it’s worth an entire book and “Are You My Mother?” is, in the end, a very weak follow-up to “Fun Home” containing far too much intellectual posturing and not enough substance. Not a great read though I'm sure psychology students will probably love it to bits.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    A new chlorine-resistant swimsuit? Is there such a thing? I think that means swimming in the buff- but what do I know? Got your attention? Great,....this is one hell of a sophisticated - intellectual- and emotional graphic book. Author Alison Bechdel is simply awesome--there is just no other way to say it... BOTH of HER BOOKS are PRICELESS.... She says: "My mother composed me, as I now compose her". This memoir is not 'all' about her mother... yet I loved how it felt so real how Alison was TRYING A new chlorine-resistant swimsuit? Is there such a thing? I think that means swimming in the buff- but what do I know? Got your attention? Great,....this is one hell of a sophisticated - intellectual- and emotional graphic book. Author Alison Bechdel is simply awesome--there is just no other way to say it... BOTH of HER BOOKS are PRICELESS.... She says: "My mother composed me, as I now compose her". This memoir is not 'all' about her mother... yet I loved how it felt so real how Alison was TRYING TO FIGURE OUT BOTH SIDES OF THE COUCH OF WHAT PSYCHOANALYSIS DID FOR HER PARENTS!!! [I thought about this purpose of Alison's throughout] .....things circled back to her mother by the end. Alison can draw like there is no tomorrow ...she is funny ....brilliant ... fascinating ....and heartwarming. I love BOTH OF HER GRAPHIC BOOKS!! But read FUN HOUSE first!!!!

  3. 4 out of 5

    Fabian

    Another absolutely spectacular entry into the graphic novel canon. But because its an attempt to emulate its brill predecessor, the glorious "Fun Home", & has less anchors or poetic ideas that pop up with artful disposition throughout this, a very unmerry meta effort-- it is a cranial deconstruction of prior psychoanalyses & (I suppose) less hearty than the ode to Bechdel's father-- it succeeds less than her true masterpiece. (To be fair: To top "Fun Home"? Simply impossible!) PS Fun Home at the Another absolutely spectacular entry into the graphic novel canon. But because its an attempt to emulate its brill predecessor, the glorious "Fun Home", & has less anchors or poetic ideas that pop up with artful disposition throughout this, a very unmerry meta effort-- it is a cranial deconstruction of prior psychoanalyses & (I suppose) less hearty than the ode to Bechdel's father-- it succeeds less than her true masterpiece. (To be fair: To top "Fun Home"? Simply impossible!) PS Fun Home at the Ellie... this month on the 19th!!! PPS Not a single dry eye at the opera house!!!--hard to forget--

  4. 5 out of 5

    Patrick

    All books have a price of admission. With some books, this price is so low, we never notice it. Maybe all it requires to read some things is very low-level literacy and a willingness to turn pages. Other books require that more literacy. More vocabulary (or willingness to use a dictionary.) Many books, (most notably literary or academic works) require that you have knowledge of certain things to get in the door, so to speak. Maybe you need to have read Kant. Maybe you need to speak Latin or Frenc All books have a price of admission. With some books, this price is so low, we never notice it. Maybe all it requires to read some things is very low-level literacy and a willingness to turn pages. Other books require that more literacy. More vocabulary (or willingness to use a dictionary.) Many books, (most notably literary or academic works) require that you have knowledge of certain things to get in the door, so to speak. Maybe you need to have read Kant. Maybe you need to speak Latin or French. And some books have varying strata of requirements. You can enjoy them at a base level no matter what, but if you have certain things under your belt, you have the opportunity to enjoy them at a much higher level. The Sandman comics are a good example of this varying strata. Anyone can enjoy the basic story. But if you know mythology, you'll enjoy things much more. If you know Shakespeare, it opens up another level. If you get superheroes, there's some treasures that are only available to you. This book is like that. But the big difference is that the vast majority of the story is occluded if you don't have a good working knowledge of Virginia Woolf and her works AND, if not an understanding of psychoanalysis, then at least a strong interest in it. I have neither. (I'm a fan of therapy, but not so much the strict Freudian stuff. I'm a cognitive behaviorist.) Despite this, I found the story interesting. I enjoy stories about stories, and it's interesting to watch another person's journey trying to find the truth. What's more, there were interesting facts and tidbits scattered throughout that made the reading worthwhile. To be fair though, I find stories about people *struggling* to write stories less appealing. Maybe it's just too close to my real life to be fun for me. In some ways, this might seem like I'm damning the book with faint praise. But the truth is, I don't think this book was really *for* me. Whatever the target demographic is, I'm not it. People interested in Alison Bechdel's life. People interested in psychoanalysis. People working through complicated relationships with their mothers. People who enjoyed Bechdel's Fun House. People who have read Virginia Woolf's works. People interested in Virgina Woolf. Given that I only hit two of these (the first and the forth.) The fact that I liked the book at all is rather impressive, and a testament to the craft Bechdel brought to bear in writing and drawing it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Melody

    Wow. I am having a hard time believing how much I disliked this book. The two stars are for the drawings, not the text. I found it recursive, uninteresting- no, stultifying, masturbatory and at heart fairly hollow. There are pages and pages of transcriptions from the writings of eminent Freudians, pages of Bechdel's therapy, and pages of the dreams of both Bechdel and eminent Freudians. Perhaps my own psychoanalysis would be interesting to me (though I doubt it)- someone else's surely is not. De Wow. I am having a hard time believing how much I disliked this book. The two stars are for the drawings, not the text. I found it recursive, uninteresting- no, stultifying, masturbatory and at heart fairly hollow. There are pages and pages of transcriptions from the writings of eminent Freudians, pages of Bechdel's therapy, and pages of the dreams of both Bechdel and eminent Freudians. Perhaps my own psychoanalysis would be interesting to me (though I doubt it)- someone else's surely is not. Despite the claustrophobic focus on Bechdel and her anxieties, there's a curious distance here that fed my boredom and made turning every page a struggle. It's ostensibly a memoir of her relationship with her mother, but I don't think this worked out very well. It might be just too hard to get the proper distance when the subject of one's retrospective is still alive and opining on one's work. I am a huge fan of Dykes to Watch Out For and I loved Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic with all my heart. This one didn't work for me. Not even a little.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Moira

    Well. As an artist who grew up in a museum, as the daughter of a complicated and creative mother (hi, Mom!), and as a skeptical analysand, I found MUCH that spoke to me about Are You My Mother?. But I have a strong bias against works of art that are about how difficult it is to make works of art, so I can't wholeheartedly endorse this as I could (her previous graphic-novel-memoir) Fun Home. ...Upon further reflection, I have to add that I am in awe of Alison Bechdel's bravery. I spent no fewer th Well. As an artist who grew up in a museum, as the daughter of a complicated and creative mother (hi, Mom!), and as a skeptical analysand, I found MUCH that spoke to me about Are You My Mother?. But I have a strong bias against works of art that are about how difficult it is to make works of art, so I can't wholeheartedly endorse this as I could (her previous graphic-novel-memoir) Fun Home. ...Upon further reflection, I have to add that I am in awe of Alison Bechdel's bravery. I spent no fewer than 6 days trying to write the three-sentence review above. These puny bits of self-revelation - my feelings about my mom are complicated, I've been in analysis, etc - are very difficult for me, but truly peanuts compared to the truths laid out in any given handful of panels in this book. So maybe that's the point of this book for me. My own struggles were reflected back to me through Alison's words and art, and I gained courage and, perhaps more importantly, that very rare feeling of being slightly less alone.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gene Hult

    I'm a huge fan of Bechdel's previous graphic memoir, FUN HOME, which centers around her closeted father and the ornate family house where Bechdel grew up. I've read it several times, always moved and impressed by its narrative and visual power, and always finding new angles of interest with each reread. Her new graphic memoir, ARE YOU MY MOTHER?, ostensibly centers around her mother this go-around. And while it's brilliantly drawn and certainly an impressive psychological and intellectual achiev I'm a huge fan of Bechdel's previous graphic memoir, FUN HOME, which centers around her closeted father and the ornate family house where Bechdel grew up. I've read it several times, always moved and impressed by its narrative and visual power, and always finding new angles of interest with each reread. Her new graphic memoir, ARE YOU MY MOTHER?, ostensibly centers around her mother this go-around. And while it's brilliantly drawn and certainly an impressive psychological and intellectual achievement, I wasn't as engaged with its narrative. First of all, ARE YOU MY MOTHER? is much more meta (even with characters referring to it as a meta-book within the pages) and it may have suffered for that. It's analyzed and distanced, with overlaying therapy, commentary, criticism, and self-consciousness that mostly reads as rather intrusive voice-over. It's more of a psychological exploration mystery than a storytelling narrative, and sometimes reads as a self-help guide rather than narrative non-fiction. Oddly for a graphic memoir, it actually takes the old adage of "show don't tell" and turns it around so completely that it takes "telling" to new heights, despite the presence of wonderfully evocative illustrations. I began to resent the intellectual overlays that seemed to interrupt the narrative, and even though all the psychological exploration and analysis was interesting and smart, I kept feeling that it should have been submerged more into the story itself rather than layered on top of the narrative like meta-commentary. Still, it's an enlightening book, with some deep-rooted personal and universal issues being tackled. Perhaps if I was more interested in nakedly-presented psychoanalysis, I would have been more engaged and affected, but I prefer my narrative to stay in story as much as possible, and I ultimately found the meta-commentary intrusive and even off-putting. Rather than reading a story, it felt more like I was listening to someone's therapy sessions and dreams, and those are conversation killers. Don't tell me your problems -- tell me your STORY. The illustrations are gorgeous and touching throughout, with many poignant moments evoked through simple expressions and silent poses. I just wish everything had been subsumed within the narrative and not been quite so analyzed and deconstructed. However, it WILL make you consider your own mother in fascinating and unsettling ways, so prepare for that!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I'd strongly recommend Fun Home to pretty much everyone, but I wouldn't recommend Are You My Mother? to almost anyone, including my own mother, who I see on here tried to read this after loving Fun Home (which I gave her) but then apparently gave up in disgust. And I can totally guess why, as there's a lot in here that it's perfectly reasonable not to like. That said, I fiercely loved this book and it made me cry and cry. Alison Bechdel is such a genius that I kind of just can't even deal with it I'd strongly recommend Fun Home to pretty much everyone, but I wouldn't recommend Are You My Mother? to almost anyone, including my own mother, who I see on here tried to read this after loving Fun Home (which I gave her) but then apparently gave up in disgust. And I can totally guess why, as there's a lot in here that it's perfectly reasonable not to like. That said, I fiercely loved this book and it made me cry and cry. Alison Bechdel is such a genius that I kind of just can't even deal with it, and this book is incredible in so many ways. I'm not sure I would've felt this way if I hadn't read Fun Home first, though; there's an analogy to be made between initially unappealing sex acts and a plotless, ultra-meta comic memoir about object relations theory that is an extremely detailed and specific examination of a woman's relationship with her mother. If this had been my first date with Alison Bechdel I might've jumped up, grabbed my clothes, and run out of her room. As it was, though, we'd had such an amazing time together and I was already sort of in love with her, so I was willing to follow this book to places I otherwise wouldn't have been ready to go. I'm not particularly interested in psychoanalytic theory, though I'm conversant with its basic ideas as I was forced to study them in social work school. Somehow this book actually made me want to go into analysis, though I think I might be better matched with a frightening Kleinian over a warm fuzzy Winnicott-type. Are You My Mother? represented therapy and Winnicott's ideas in a way that I can see not being interesting to all readers, but that I found compelling. In theory, there are few things I'd rather read than a therapy memoir, but somehow Alison Bechdel is so smart and great and I love her drawings and the way she processes and presents information so much that I got super into this and felt completely swept away by it at several points. It helps that I'm personally interested in some of the material about using her family as comic book fodder, having known at least one tell-all lesbian comic book memoirist myself in my day. In sum, I loved this book but don't come crying to me if you don't like it. On the other hand, if you read Fun Home and don't like it and can somehow prove to me that you're not a complete fucking idiot and that's the reason why, I will refund any money you paid to buy it.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    This is a therapy memoir and at one point Alison’s therapist says I have the sense that you were a very sweet kid. A wonderful kid, in fact! Because, as an adult… and this will probably embarrass you… you’re really adorable. This took me aback, because for the previous 200 pages the Alison Bechdel presented here is anything but. She’s horribly self-obsessed, self-loathing, morose, envious, morbid and really a total glumbucket. She never cracks a smile. You wouldn't want this Alison as a friend. Bu This is a therapy memoir and at one point Alison’s therapist says I have the sense that you were a very sweet kid. A wonderful kid, in fact! Because, as an adult… and this will probably embarrass you… you’re really adorable. This took me aback, because for the previous 200 pages the Alison Bechdel presented here is anything but. She’s horribly self-obsessed, self-loathing, morose, envious, morbid and really a total glumbucket. She never cracks a smile. You wouldn't want this Alison as a friend. But that’s not the Alison I know! Which makes this review really difficult and this book impossible to rate. The Alison I know wrote one of my all time MUST-READ comedy classics The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For. That Alison is wry, sharp, hilarious and moving. There’s only one thing the two Alisons have got in common – both of them can draw like a heavenly being, with every line so clear and uncluttered each character being just exactly how people are. On the level of graphic art this is a 5 star treat. So the problem is that I don’t have any time for the therapy business. Once we have figured out how to avoid the coming ecocatastrophe, then re-framed the global economy to resolve the major issue of the one billion people on the planet living in absolute poverty, then addressed the tidal wave of recreational drugs that are killing generations in one way or another, maybe then we can turn to figuring out why the middle classes of this world have periods where it just seems like their lives are flat and their careers are going nowhere and their sex just isn’t so much fun as it used to be and it might be something to do with that evening when they were 7 years old and their mother just stopped kissing them goodnight, just stopped with no word of warning. Yes, that particular example of bad parenting does appear in this memoir. (“When Mom abruptly stopped kissing me goodnight, I felt almost as if she’d slapped me. But I was stoic. I betrayed no reaction.” Until 26 years later, we may add.) It’s not like Alison is unaware of this. One girlfriend is a ferocious activist & is always protesting at nuclear bases and wants to rush off to Guatemala. Meanwhile all Alison can do is wonder why she gave up writing poetry or stare at her favourite childhood teddybear Mr Beezum and realise He’s not me, but he’s not not-me either. Or have various dreams that appear to be very significant like the one where she is trying frantically to dial a phone number 1! 8! 1! 8! and when she wakes up she thinks ah, that means the Jewish symbol chai because I had learned from Amy that in Hebrew Chai means “living”, and that the numero-logical sum of its letters is 18. Good job Alison was not aware of the contemporary Nazi group Combat 18, named after Adolf (1 = A, 8 = H, you see). Imagine if someone had not told her about chai but had told her about Combat 18. She’d have rushed off to the therapist saying “I had a dream where I was trying to call up Adolf Hitler! Argh!” The psychobabble is laid on with a trowel in this memoir. What we get a whole lot of is Alison’s growing interest/obsession in a child psychologist named Donald Winnicott. Here is Alison’s version of this guy explaining her arachnophobia to one of his patients : I think somewhere in your early development… when you hadn’t quite separated out from your mother… you hallucinated her. That is, you hallucinated the subjective object, the breast or whatever, expecting to be met. But you weren’t. There was a gap. A dark lack… an absence. And as an infant you dealt with this in the only way you were able, by putting legs round it. And then it became a spider and you became afraid of it. Wow. This sort of reasoning makes me want to run a long way away. But therapy has a lot of fans, I know, and this book has mostly got ecstatic reviews. So as you see, it’s really unfair for me to rate this at all. I’m copping out with three deeply troubled stars.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sue

    This has been a very interesting read, different from Fun Home, in my recollection, by Bechdel' s attempt to understand and relate understanding of her mother and their complex relationship through her self-education in (and personal experience of) psychoanalysis. There are dreams to be analyzed, comparison of their preferred authors ( Woolf for Alison, Plath for her mother). Memories from childhood, both overtly happy and appearing quite sad. And there are contemporaneous conversations, as moth This has been a very interesting read, different from Fun Home, in my recollection, by Bechdel' s attempt to understand and relate understanding of her mother and their complex relationship through her self-education in (and personal experience of) psychoanalysis. There are dreams to be analyzed, comparison of their preferred authors ( Woolf for Alison, Plath for her mother). Memories from childhood, both overtly happy and appearing quite sad. And there are contemporaneous conversations, as mother and daughter test the ground between them. And tying it all together are Bechdel's drawings of her life. This book is not as easily approachable as Fun Home. It reflects all the difficulties the author experienced writing it. But there is a depth present that any of us with a mother can appreciate. I do recommend this book with the caveat that the reader be willing to undertake some interesting reading in psychoanalysis interspersed with the author's life observations expressed through graphic novel. I did and am glad I for it. I found myself thinking about my life and my mother often while reading, thankful that my life was less complex than Alison's while also wondering at the multiple things I likely missed sight of along the way in my life. 4 to 4.5*

  11. 5 out of 5

    Simon

    To me, this book resembles the kind of modernism that forms, in the persona of Virginia Woolf, one of its central themes. It is like nothing so much as a densely contrapuntal twelve-tone composition. Fragments of themes weave in and out of each other, breaking off, reappearing in new contexts; the words and images often come apart, reproducing the sense of polyphony in the written medium. It is a formal tour de force. The content is intensely interesting, functioning at both an emotional and a ce To me, this book resembles the kind of modernism that forms, in the persona of Virginia Woolf, one of its central themes. It is like nothing so much as a densely contrapuntal twelve-tone composition. Fragments of themes weave in and out of each other, breaking off, reappearing in new contexts; the words and images often come apart, reproducing the sense of polyphony in the written medium. It is a formal tour de force. The content is intensely interesting, functioning at both an emotional and a cerebral level. One can learn a lot from this book, especially about Winnicott. I've read quite a lot of psychoanalysis in my earlier life, but never Winnicott, whom I know many discerning people think incredibly highly of. (I expect in work in the humanities, he's the most quoted psychoanalyst after Freud and Lacan.) Strangely, I have to say that what I did learn about him in this book left me somewhat cold. Perhaps because of my own psychic issues, I could read Bechdel's description of his views on some topic - the True versus the False self, the distinction between relating to and using an object, the transitional object, and so on - and while I could follow the words on the page, somehow I could never keep it straight in my mind. Different psychic possibilities would melt into each other; the ideas just refused to come alive for me. I had the same sense with the accounts of Alice Miller's work here. Maybe it's just psychoanalysis that does this to me, though I'm sure I got on much better with Freud, Abraham, Ferenczi, or whoever else I read back in the day. Anyway, that's Winnicott. Bechdel's work is amazing. Playing off the psychoanalytic ideas, counterposing them to discussions of Woolf, and to her own striking relationship with her mother; her renditions of her dreams, with which each chapter opens; her therapy with two different therapists; and the process of writing both the book about her father, and this book itself - the result is so impressive. And, as many people have noticed, her resolute, unabashed presentation of herself, her feelings, her actions, is really brave.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Ines

    I’m sorry but this book was not for me and i did not like it at all, it will be for professional deformation but it is only a neurotic concentrate of a relationship between mother and daughter. At the end of this reading I asked myself... " but why did I read this book without a head and tail?"... there was nothing that captured a half smile or that was of any interest, full of tedious notions on various famous exponents of pedagogy and psychiatry. A real embarrassment to me.😕 A comic drama!??? no I’m sorry but this book was not for me and i did not like it at all, it will be for professional deformation but it is only a neurotic concentrate of a relationship between mother and daughter. At the end of this reading I asked myself... " but why did I read this book without a head and tail?"... there was nothing that captured a half smile or that was of any interest, full of tedious notions on various famous exponents of pedagogy and psychiatry. A real embarrassment to me.😕 A comic drama!??? not at all!! just a sadness one... Mi spiace ma questo libro proprio non mi è piaciuto per niente, sara per deformazione professionale ma è unicamente un concentrato nevrotico di una relazione tra madre e figlia.. Conclusa questa lettura mi sono chiesta... " ma perchè ho letto questo libro senza capo ne coda?"... non vi era proprio nulla che catturasse un mezzo sorriso ne che interessasse minimamente, infarcito di nozioni tediose su vari esponenti famosi di pedagogia e psichiatria Un vero imbarazzo!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    This is my second time through this book, which is a matching pair to Bechdel's Fun Home, which most (and I) recognize as a masterpiece. This, her mom book, bears some resemblance to Fun Home, her dad book, in that it is in part an autobiography, and very very carefully layered, entertwining its story of her mother with Bechdel's reading of other texts. Finally, it's not as much about her mother as it is about how your experience of one person is connected to your experience of other people and This is my second time through this book, which is a matching pair to Bechdel's Fun Home, which most (and I) recognize as a masterpiece. This, her mom book, bears some resemblance to Fun Home, her dad book, in that it is in part an autobiography, and very very carefully layered, entertwining its story of her mother with Bechdel's reading of other texts. Finally, it's not as much about her mother as it is about how your experience of one person is connected to your experience of other people and your reading and work and everything. Each page is meticulously constructed, as the OCD-laden and -blessed Bechdel makes sure every line and word matters. And she almost never smiles in either book; she's annoying, arrogant, fragile, funny, self-absorbed, and she never hides her warts from us as readers. That's the thing about memoir, that we usually are led to like the narrator/author, we have to have something like affection to keep us turning the pages. But Bechdel doesn't stoop to that manipulation, that seduction; her strength is that she makes it clear she is who she is and that is an interesting risk for any author to take, especially if who you are is deeply flawed in some ways. I admire it as a strategy. I may have liked Fun Home more because it conforms more to typical narrative expectations: there are startling revelations, there's a kind of arc to the whole and to individual chapters. Mother is less dramatic. more meta-memoir, as it overlaps with the time span of the making of Fun Home. The texts in Fun Home are literary ones: Joyce, Fitzgerald… so I like that more than in Mother, where it is psychological reading: Freud, Winnicot, and the focus is also on other women who Bechdel must deal with in addition to her mother: lovers and therapists. That’s the joke of the title, that in the search for her mother she finds so many other women join her birth mother in guiding her. I mean, in addition to Bechdel’s also wanting her mother do be more of what she needs in a mother. The analysis is dense and complex as she weaves therapy talk with mother interaction and book writing and journal writing and reading and lover drama. I was a psych minor and worked in a psych hospital for a few years so I can understand all the therapy-speak in this book, but I haven't had much luck with therapy myself so am less sympathetic with all the complex theoretical analysis, all the intensive self absorption. However, the storytelling and the artwork is masterful in Are You my Mother?, just topnotch, among the best ever.

  14. 4 out of 5

    MJ Nicholls

    Once more Alison Bechdel knocks a stellar work out the park (after half a decade of torturous self-analysis) and repositions the suffering neurotic artist at the forefront of serious art. By turns frustrating and self-absorbed to such mindboggling depths of solipsistic screwdriver-in-the-head nuttiness, the novel slowly reveals itself as a complex rendition of mother-daughter psychodynamics, touching upon Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich and pioneering feminist psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott along Once more Alison Bechdel knocks a stellar work out the park (after half a decade of torturous self-analysis) and repositions the suffering neurotic artist at the forefront of serious art. By turns frustrating and self-absorbed to such mindboggling depths of solipsistic screwdriver-in-the-head nuttiness, the novel slowly reveals itself as a complex rendition of mother-daughter psychodynamics, touching upon Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich and pioneering feminist psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott along the way. A much-too-intimate soul-on-the-page work of quite outrageous braveness and unrepeatable, wrenching and yucky emotional honesty. Read to the end. Honestly, the ending pardons everything. You won’t like her, but you will love her. As good as Fun Home.

  15. 4 out of 5

    jo

    ETA i'm reading around in GR, checking other reviews of this book, and there are SO MANY that are SO GOOD and make points that are different from mine, or points that are similar to mine but say it better. great literature produces great responses! ************ this is the best memoir i have read. in fact, it is one of the best books i've ever read period. i tried to think of other books that would compare to it in beauty, creativity, intelligence, complexity, and depth, and i think i'm going to ETA i'm reading around in GR, checking other reviews of this book, and there are SO MANY that are SO GOOD and make points that are different from mine, or points that are similar to mine but say it better. great literature produces great responses! ************ this is the best memoir i have read. in fact, it is one of the best books i've ever read period. i tried to think of other books that would compare to it in beauty, creativity, intelligence, complexity, and depth, and i think i'm going to have to place Are You My Mother? among my top ten. if i spent the next 5 years re-reading it, over and over, daily, continuously, it would be satisfaction enough for my intellect and my soul. i am an awe of alison bechdel for having written and drawn this book. i can't imagine what it must have taken. but then i think i know what it took: a genius only some of us possess. genius in conception, preparation, working through, execution, and getting it done (so many of us out here with fabulous ideas, deep thoughts, complex plans, and not enough persistence or courage or solidity of self to bring it all to completion). and this is such a unique book. in order to painstakingly write it, page after bloody page, and then put it out there for all to see, she must truly have believed -- in it, in herself, in the world. i read the entire thing so fast. i need to re-read. it's not an easy book but it was an incredibly compelling book to me. i think i drank it. i dreamed it. i thought about it nonstop and still am. it changed my life. i haven’t read many reviews of it but in one of them bechdel says that she wasn’t thinking of her mother when she first conceived of the book. she wanted to write a book about relationships. this makes sense to me. if you are drawn to write a book about relationships and all their immense complications and you are alison bechdel you will necessarily be drawn to this most central, first, primordial, paradigmatic relationship: the relationship with your mother. but let me try to bring some order to this brilliantly interwoven work of art. there are many genres and many stories that intersect in Are You My Mother? one strand is a pretty scholarly (but of course bechdel endeavors to make it fully accessible to everyone) exposition of the thought of british psychoanalyst donald winnicott. winnicott is the guy who invented the transitional object and the good enough mother. more significantly, he developed and added his original insight to the idea that what happened between a mom (or a primary caretaker) and her baby in very early stages of childhood shapes the baby in a fundamental and lasting way. also famously, winnicott said that there is not such a thing as a baby, meaning we cannot conceive of a baby in isolation: the rapport with the mother is essential to the baby's existence. i love psychoanalysis and winnicott is a particularly lovely representative of it. his work is key to a lot of contemporary psychoanalysis and a serious and compelling argument in favor of not judging psychoanalysis only based on the work of freud, as many still do. winnicott's psychoanalysis is sweet and passionate. he was a child psychologist and worked all of his life with kids, often very disturbed ones. bechdel is clealy in love with him too. beside discussing his ideas (and, charmingly, telling us the story of her engagement with his work and the evolution of this engagement, sticky points and all) she also talks about him, the man. since she's a comics artist, she can do that. sometimes (not sure if in relation to winnicott or at other points, but still) the text in the square boxes and what happens in the panels seem to go their separate ways, as if they were talking about entirely different things. the effect is stunning, like hearing a voice over in a movie during a sequences that doesn't quite illustrate what the voice over is saying. this should give you a sense of the complexity of this text. as she talks about psychoanalysis, bechdel gives us a dense psychoanalytic text, in which free associations appear in the flow of the narrative, in the juxtaposition of stories, in the juxtaposition of drawings and words, and in just about everything. this is why i could spend the next five years reading it. anyway, winnicott. being so in love with his work, bechdel falls a bit in love with his story. i love the passages dedicated to his personal story. this simple man, with his issues and his troubles, sitting on the floor talking to kids, healing kids, or lying on the couch talking to his own analyst -- so brilliant, so revolutionary, so human. beautiful. the book, inevitably, becomes a self-analysis. in fact, it is a self-analysis from the very first panel, as it starts with a dream bechdel goes on to interpret. so this is another strand. but this strand is aided by the fact that, before she wrote the book and while writing the book, bechdel is herself in analysis. a lot of panels are about her sessions with her analysts (she saw two). these panels are strangely and compellingly dynamic, in spite of the fact that they portray two people sitting in a room, because bechdel draws the analyst as sitting very still while she manages to give a sense of her own inquisitiveness and restless curiosity. she is always drawn sitting with her elbows on her knees, leaning forward. she scratches her head. she looks intensely absorbed in the difficult process to understand. to summarize, so far: we have bechdel's study of winnicott; we have bechdel's analytic sessions; we have bechdel's self analysis. the last is aided by the first two. the whole book is an intense, incredibly artful, incredibly and beautifully compressed yet absolutely absorbing effort on the part of bechdel to understand what went on between herself her mother. which brings me to strand number four, which is all the time and physical space (literally! this is a comic book! the space is bidimensional!) bechdel devotes to her conversations with her mother. busy as she is working, studying, analyzing, and having a life, bechdel talks on the phone to her mom every day. as we saw in Fun Home and as we see here too, bechdel's mom was not exactly a fountain of warmth and tenderness. she was probably a good enough mom when alison was very little, but later her (frustrated?) artistic interests turned her into a rather cold and detached figure. when alison was 7 mom told her she was too old to be kissed goodnight. her younger brothers continued to receive their goodnight kisses. the profound disconnect between alison and her mother continues in adulthood. alison is always the one who initiates the calls. their "conversations" consist of mom talking and alison listening. on the occasions when alison needs to make herself heard (like, say, to ask if it's okay that she's writing this book!), she needs to insist. conversations about alison seem to last only two or three exchanges. mom is none too happy that alison is writing about her family but then alison does it anyway and mom seems to take it in stride. mom is also unhappy that alison writes a (successful) comic strip about lesbians ("what am i going to tell the family?"). this detachment is obviously and glaringly in contrast with the fact that they talk every day. why does alison keep calling this woman who doesn't truly accept her and is not overly proud in her? the discrepancy is complicated by the fact that at some point (maybe in order to write this book) alison starts typing up the conversations she has with her mom while they are happening. so imagine panel after panel of alison wearing earbuds and typing away while mom is off screen (so to speak: there must be a way to say this for comic books but i don't know what it is) talking about art, literature, the theater, and her life. bechdel is a compulsive record keeper, but this seems deeply meaningful beyond that. it's as if typing up what her mother says a) gave alison something to do while mom goes on about herself b) gave alison agency in this interaction (she, not mom, captures and will be the custodian of mom's words) and c) upset the balance of power and powerlessness between them (these words will end up in a book in which mom doesn't look too good and over which she has no control*). finally, there is the strand of alison's relationships with her girlfriends, presumably the point from which everything started. this part goes by quickly so i don't remember it too well; or maybe i was more interested in other parts. it seems anyway secondary, as if the true, the important relating were happening in the analysts's offices, in alison's office at home while she talks to her mom, in alison's mother's house (where she seems so very young), in alison's head, in alison's fabulous real-time reflections on the book she's writing. i have left out so much. there's a lot of virginia woolf here, especially her journals, and there's a very astute reading of To the Lighthouse; woolf is another woman whose mom never quite loved her right, and bechdel shows the immense therapeutic value woolf got out of writing To the Lighthouse, where she puts her feelings towards her parents to rest. and there's a lot about alice miller's psychoanalytic book The Drama of the Gifted Child, which bechdel discusses gorgeously and in which she finds endless comfort. but i have to stop. i'm using too many words. i have so much more to say but my words seem already to be more than all the words of Are You My Mother? i cannot say that this book is for everyone. some people are bound to find it difficult.** but if you had a complex relation with your mom, give it a try. and if you love literature, and words, and ideas, and the magic that books can spin, definitely pick it up and read it. go slowly. savor the panels, savor the words, try to understand. and if you are interested in psychoanalysis, about how healing through a deep relationship with another who sits with you and listens to your story happens, this book is totally for you. i don't want to make this book sound forbidding, but Fun Home was a breeze and this isn't a breeze. it's a book in which so much is packed. it's a deep book about someone who is trying to find her roots, not only through emotions but also through a lot of thinking and looking at others who did the same. this is deeply moving but the thinking can get a bit hard to grasp fully. still, it is so worth it, so so worth it. this is destined to become a key text of the american literary canon. * this is also complicated. alison mails to her mom drafts of both her books and waits very anxiously for a response. ** i'm not some kind of genius or anything, but i know a bit about psychoanalysis.

  16. 4 out of 5

    d4

    If you don't have a hard-on for psychoanalysis, this meta-book is not for you. It's not for me; I know that now. I learned more about Freud, Winnicott, and Virginia Woolf than about the author, which is weird because at the same time reading this book is like being stuck in her mind during a binge of especially boring thoughts. The book looks pretty. I like the coloring. That's really the only compliment I can give it. If you liked this book, tell me why. I'm legitimately curious because I suspe If you don't have a hard-on for psychoanalysis, this meta-book is not for you. It's not for me; I know that now. I learned more about Freud, Winnicott, and Virginia Woolf than about the author, which is weird because at the same time reading this book is like being stuck in her mind during a binge of especially boring thoughts. The book looks pretty. I like the coloring. That's really the only compliment I can give it. If you liked this book, tell me why. I'm legitimately curious because I suspect that only lesbian memoir writers obsessed with psychoanalysis and the length of time they were breast fed could possibly relate.

  17. 4 out of 5

    M—

    Very introspective, even for a memoir. More about Alison's therapy sessions than about her relationship with her mother. I found myself more curious about her relationship with her father, which seemed traumatic and was mentioned quite a few times but not explored, but reviews of this book indicate that Alison wrote out that relationship in an earlier book. Quite honestly I thought Alison whined a lot, which I know is an unfair statement to make. So much of the book is focused on her detailed the Very introspective, even for a memoir. More about Alison's therapy sessions than about her relationship with her mother. I found myself more curious about her relationship with her father, which seemed traumatic and was mentioned quite a few times but not explored, but reviews of this book indicate that Alison wrote out that relationship in an earlier book. Quite honestly I thought Alison whined a lot, which I know is an unfair statement to make. So much of the book is focused on her detailed therapy sessions across a spread of twenty years, which were obviously so personal, but her depicted reactions in them only circulated the statements 'I don't know', 'I broke down weeping', 'I love you, therapist', and 'I had a major breakthrough'. I've never been to therapy. I think of it as a wonderful tool that persons can find extraordinarily helpful, but my personal concept of therapy is somewhat abstract. Reading Alison's therapy made me feel like I was more in her head than I really wanted to be, like being caught in a subway with a perfect stranger who will not stop telling you every detail of her life. And Alison remained a stranger to me throughout the entire book. Best recommended for artists and creative persons, persons who've explored their own therapy, and persons with frustrating familial relationships — not recommendations which really apply to me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    I love the title of this book. First, because it evokes (thematically) a book of the same name that I loved as a kid. (We had the English-Spanish version, which made it even more fun.) Second, because it fits this book in more than one way, as the question can be asked with different intonations. And while that children's book isn't mentioned in the text, A.A. Milne's The World of Pooh and Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book are, and to great revelatory effect, especially with Bechdel's illustrations at t I love the title of this book. First, because it evokes (thematically) a book of the same name that I loved as a kid. (We had the English-Spanish version, which made it even more fun.) Second, because it fits this book in more than one way, as the question can be asked with different intonations. And while that children's book isn't mentioned in the text, A.A. Milne's The World of Pooh and Dr. Seuss's The Sleep Book are, and to great revelatory effect, especially with Bechdel's illustrations at these junctures. This book is more complex than her earlier Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Dream interpretation (a dream leads off each chapter and while reading about people's dreams can be boring, here it isn't -- perhaps that's due to the illustrations), psychoanalysis, Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Donald Winnicott are all important to it. And while it's not needlessly complicated, it can be exhausting. At first the psychoanalyst talk and theories seemed self-perpetuating, almost incestuous in a way, but by the end, I'd changed my mind, all credit to the way this story is told, and drawn. Also important is Alice Miller's The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self. When the author buys a copy, the bookseller tells her to kiss life as she knows it good-bye. A powerful thing to say, but I understood the comment in a measure after putting Bechdel's book down for the night about halfway through and then having a powerful, complex dream myself early the following morning. The power of suggestion, or the power of this story?

  19. 4 out of 5

    David V

    I finished "Fun Home" about a month ago and eagerly looked forward to the next installment of Alison Bechdel's memoirs. I could not have been more disappointed. The harshest criticism I can give is that it's just plain boring, filled with page after page of psychological pseudo-analysis and "remembered" dreams. I'm sure this book was cathartic for her to write, but it was not the least bit enjoyable to read. I finished "Fun Home" about a month ago and eagerly looked forward to the next installment of Alison Bechdel's memoirs. I could not have been more disappointed. The harshest criticism I can give is that it's just plain boring, filled with page after page of psychological pseudo-analysis and "remembered" dreams. I'm sure this book was cathartic for her to write, but it was not the least bit enjoyable to read.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    It pains me to write a less than glowing review of a book by Alison Bechdel, since I have been such a huge fan for so long, and since DTWOF has provided such immense comfort for me during hard times in my life. It's also hard to criticize this book since it was so intensely personal -- but I actually think this was one of its main problems. This book seems to have been written for the sake of the writer, rather than the reader. The book was, strangely, a combination of being too personal and too It pains me to write a less than glowing review of a book by Alison Bechdel, since I have been such a huge fan for so long, and since DTWOF has provided such immense comfort for me during hard times in my life. It's also hard to criticize this book since it was so intensely personal -- but I actually think this was one of its main problems. This book seems to have been written for the sake of the writer, rather than the reader. The book was, strangely, a combination of being too personal and too clinical. I quickly lost interest in reading excerpts from Winnicott, Freud, and Woolf -- and learning the details of the writer's deep anxieties and relationships with therapists felt voyeuristic. There was a self-absorption in this work that was disturbing at times, and lent a sense of unease to the experience of reading it. It was also disjointed, confusing, and repetitive at times. But most of all, and unlike any other book I've read by the author, this book wasn't funny. In all of Bechdel's earlier work, there is a joyful humor underlying even the most challenging of circumstances, and I found this to be missing here. Although I'm not an artist, I'm guessing that the drawings are highly skilled, and I did finish the book with a profound empathy for both Bechdel and her mother in their brave survival of the traumatic past, but I think this one won't be treasured with the rest of my Bechdel collection.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marianne

    Sat up reading this from 11:30 at night until 1:40 in the morning. So compelling I can't even really talk about it yet. **** On reflection: I was too affected by this book to talk directly about why it meant so much to me, but here's a thing I noticed: In Fun Home, the images are often very object-oriented (you frequently see what the character is looking at), while the words carry the lion's share of emotion and meaning. That still happens in this book, but more often the words are either distanc Sat up reading this from 11:30 at night until 1:40 in the morning. So compelling I can't even really talk about it yet. **** On reflection: I was too affected by this book to talk directly about why it meant so much to me, but here's a thing I noticed: In Fun Home, the images are often very object-oriented (you frequently see what the character is looking at), while the words carry the lion's share of emotion and meaning. That still happens in this book, but more often the words are either distanced themselves, or so rawly honest that they create distance in the reader, while Bechdel's images of the characters' faces and bodies carry their feelings and even the story arc. (It's both/and in both cases, but the balance is different.) This approach dovetails with the ideas in some of the theoretical texts she chose to include, about people cutting themselves off from their bodies and living in an analytical mind, and about false selves, so I suspect it was a purposeful choice. Perhaps some of the negative reviewers relied too much on the text and didn't spend enough time with the pictures? In any case, I thought it was absolutely a brilliant book; I will be revisiting it later this summer, when I can spend more time scrutinizing each panel without being so swept up.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Gregory Baird

    "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, 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 proces "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, 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 obsessive 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.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    I loved Bechdel's Fun Home, which focuses on her relationship with her father, so I couldn't wait to read this graphic novel, which focuses on her relationship with her mother. I loved Bechdel's Fun Home, which focuses on her relationship with her father, so I couldn't wait to read this graphic novel, which focuses on her relationship with her mother.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ciara

    holy moly! this book was TERRIBLE. i really enjoyed fun home & was looking forward to are you my mother? so much that i almost bought a copy instead of waiting for it to come in at the library. this is a big deal because i almost never buy books. & when i do, they're usually used copies of books i've already read & loved. it's really unusual for me to buy a new book i haven't read yet. i'm so relieved i resisted the impulse though because this is one of the worst books i've read so far this year. holy moly! this book was TERRIBLE. i really enjoyed fun home & was looking forward to are you my mother? so much that i almost bought a copy instead of waiting for it to come in at the library. this is a big deal because i almost never buy books. & when i do, they're usually used copies of books i've already read & loved. it's really unusual for me to buy a new book i haven't read yet. i'm so relieved i resisted the impulse though because this is one of the worst books i've read so far this year. alison...what happened? how did you publishers let this happen? i guess maybe the deadlines for the manuscript were so far blown that eventually everyone just signed off on publishing anything. there is pretty much no narrative structure to this book, & at least a quarter of it is about alison's anxiety over writing it (meta!). another quarter of it is dreams, a quarter is therapy sessions, & a quarter is excerpts from writing by donal winnicott & virginia woolf. all of it is mixed together in a horrific stew that is lovely to look at--alison is a great artist & the layout of the book is beautiful. but it makes not a lick of sense. saddest of all, the numerous panels that show alison angsting over her book show that she is getting feedback from beta readers about how the narrative isn't holding together. in the acknowledgments, she thanks friends for reading the manuscript & giving her some direction so the book "makes sense". oh, honey. it doesn't. i wanted it to. i walked in more than ready to be overly charitable. but this was just awful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    This was a very meta-memoir, as self-defined by the author and her mother in the end. Alison traces her memories of and relationship with her mother alongside threads of dream interpretation, therapy and psychoanalysis, and the writings of Virginia Woolf. Clearly, analysis has formulated her way of thinking, and it was actually a little frightening to see her frame absolutely everything with the ideas of a few key thinkers - Freud, Winnicott, and Alice Miller. I guess at the back of my mind I wa This was a very meta-memoir, as self-defined by the author and her mother in the end. Alison traces her memories of and relationship with her mother alongside threads of dream interpretation, therapy and psychoanalysis, and the writings of Virginia Woolf. Clearly, analysis has formulated her way of thinking, and it was actually a little frightening to see her frame absolutely everything with the ideas of a few key thinkers - Freud, Winnicott, and Alice Miller. I guess at the back of my mind I was thinking, "But what does your life mean if they're wrong?" Regardless, she made me wish I'd read more Virginia Woolf. She has certainly internalized her. And I might want to read the Alice Miller book, although I can see myself going down the very same rabbit hole. Maybe I'd better not. Oh but it does make me wish I still kept a journal. Take this quotation that she includes from Virginia Woolf: "How it would interest me if this diary were ever to become a real diary: something in which I could see changes, trace moods developing; but then I should have to speak of the soul, and did I not banish the soul when I began? What happens is, as usual, that I'm going to write about the soul, and life breaks in." I don't know much about the field of psychoanalysis, indeed I'm not even sure if I shouldn't be calling it something else. But there are moments when she has breakthroughs like learning about "compromise formation" - "Your unconscious wants to express the pain you feel about your own lost innocence, but your ego wants to keep it repressed. So the compromise is anxiety." Her aha mirrored my aha. That's the thing though. This is written as dialogue, but I can't tell if her life events really unfolded this way or if she's a super psychoanalysis geek and wanted to stick as many concepts from it into the graphic novel as she could. I could be convinced of either perspective. I meant to read Fun Home first because I've heard it's her best, but I will look forward to it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Moira Russell

    Glad I stopped a few pages in and read Fun Home first - that not only provided context, but made this sequel a lot more palatable. All the psychoanalytic jargon sure got wearying after a while, even if the conclusion was moving - especially since Bechdel has the grace and maturity not only to see, but be thankful for, how her parents gave her the ability to survive and succeed the painfully limited family their lives created together. Le Guin's words could stand as an epigraph to this diptych: I Glad I stopped a few pages in and read Fun Home first - that not only provided context, but made this sequel a lot more palatable. All the psychoanalytic jargon sure got wearying after a while, even if the conclusion was moving - especially since Bechdel has the grace and maturity not only to see, but be thankful for, how her parents gave her the ability to survive and succeed the painfully limited family their lives created together. Le Guin's words could stand as an epigraph to this diptych: I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up; that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. Not as seamless and polished a story as Fun Home, but perhaps more elegantly and complexly drawn. Not at all the book for you if psychoanalytic theory makes you want to throw books against the wall. My favourite bit is a gorgeous two-page spread where she imagines Woolf passing by Winnicott in 1925 London: her two great psychological 'mothers' meeting in her imagination, and in 'actuality' on her created page. Bechdel buys into the analytic theory that her object-ifying her own mind and life (or something) via a voluminous diary was bad for her (think Rank on Nin) and constantly says she owes her ability to thrive and not be a compliant mirror (this is also not the book for you if you detest Alice Miller) to her lesbianism, but she never points out it is her own gift for narrative and outstanding visual sense which allowed her to work out her neuroses, as well as the extremely standard therapy she undergoes. But that is all right, since these two books show us exactly how she used the aesthetic gifts both parents passed on to her to free herself from the worst of their influences.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lee Klein

    A self-consciously forced "meta-book" follow-up to Fun Home. Another in the growing list of books about writers trying and mostly failing to write books. Didn't really "cohere" for me. Instead of a literary side-commentary complement to the story of her father, in this she spins psych nuggets to assay her mah, although it's not really about her mother of course, and what's dredged up isn't juicy enough to activate voyeuristic impluses? "Never again psychology!" Kafka shouts in one of his diaries A self-consciously forced "meta-book" follow-up to Fun Home. Another in the growing list of books about writers trying and mostly failing to write books. Didn't really "cohere" for me. Instead of a literary side-commentary complement to the story of her father, in this she spins psych nuggets to assay her mah, although it's not really about her mother of course, and what's dredged up isn't juicy enough to activate voyeuristic impluses? "Never again psychology!" Kafka shouts in one of his diaries. The study of Psychology with a capital P like that rationalizes in a way that seems out of place in art? Its all-encompassing filters are the antithesis of psychologically charged stories that come to quite possibly identical realizations via unique routes? Or, to put it less clearly, in a more muddled fashion: rational analytic filters for heart mush and mind melt reduce the bloody muddy eddy of life to unsexy non-art? This one's formally more varied than her first one in a way that I guess corresponds to hectic thematic and temporal complexities of the story, but maybe I simply preferred her first book's steady panels? Also, the drawings probably aren't as interesting as that of other leading graphic novelists, which isn't a fair criticism really? In general, although it had a few shining moments, I didn't quite "cathect" with this one's not so graceful, overtly rational web, I respect the attempt to write a memoir about writing a memoir about mom after writing a memoir about dad, and I respect the attempt to represent the psychoanaltyic complexities with the various threads knotted herein with her mama's not-very-overbearing apron strings, but again I didn't latch on, so I didn't feel sweet milky nourishment fill my readerly gullet. I also didn't necessarily like the presentation of the author in this one as much? Something to do with the ear buds she wears while on the phone with mom? Something to do with her contorted mid-analysis postures? Or maybe I found the conceits of therapy sessions and talks on phone with mom, intermixed this time with unnatural/forced psychological theories, not all that narratively compelling? Anyway, I look forward to reading her stuff in the future (assuming she has relatives to write about?) but didn't feel like this one worked for me. Note: started reading this after newish drunken neighbors woke us at 4 am on St. Patrick's Day Eve -- started it well before dawn and finished around 11 am -- so please realize that what's above is the product of a fuzzier than usual mind (although excessively caffeinated, as always). Clicked three stars at first, ye olde 2.6767 stars rounded up, but then thought it wasn't fair to books for which I've recently rated my reading experience "three stars" (ie, the similarly multithreaded Carrie).

  28. 5 out of 5

    tee

    I wept a little as I read the first third of this book. I'd hesitantly started reading it, wary that it wouldn't live up to my grand expectations (my favourite authors have been letting me down lately). So when it hit the mark, it hit hard. I could relate to this book, which for me, because I'm a closet narcissist or something is terribly important. There were similarities between Bechdel's mother and mine that I recognised immediately, and funnily - those similarities became even more apparent I wept a little as I read the first third of this book. I'd hesitantly started reading it, wary that it wouldn't live up to my grand expectations (my favourite authors have been letting me down lately). So when it hit the mark, it hit hard. I could relate to this book, which for me, because I'm a closet narcissist or something is terribly important. There were similarities between Bechdel's mother and mine that I recognised immediately, and funnily - those similarities became even more apparent as I read on. I was a hundred or so pages in when I received some news that threw me a little and I was trying to decide who to call so that I could try and stop an anxiety attack that was brewing. Over the past year I've distanced myself from my mother; I have an exceedingly complex relationship with her and because I'm not currently in therapy my best way of coping is avoidance. But I rang her, not wanting to bother my partner at work. After announcing my issue, she then proceeded to talk about herself and her issues for close to an hour while I calmed her with soothing, sympathetic noises. She offloaded, felt better and hung up. Instead of feeling crushed, I sat there holding Are You My Mother and felt differently than usual. Empty. Less angry. Not surprised. I wasn't alone anymore. I loved this book. Relating and being interested in the subject matter certainly helped. I love Alice Miller and Virginia Woolf so was enthralled by Bechdel weaving them into the narrative. Her own analyses of their work are thought provoking and sharp. I was also fascinated by Winnicott's theories (though not always in agreement) and although this book was supposedly about Bechdel's mother, it was definitely more to do with Bechdel herself. Which is what it always comes back to really. Though I got a fantastic idea of her mother without the information being presented being too intrusive, or voyeuristic. Critical, without slandering. I presume the slightly awkward respect is due to the fact her mother is still alive, it would have been interesting to see what book would have been presumed if her mother wasn't around. It was an absorbing read. I hung on each word, studied each gorgeously illustrated panel and could easily read it over, which is something I rarely do. I enjoyed the psychoanalytic aspect (but not so much the dream sequences, or the occasional corny "aha!" therapy revelation). I loved it more than Fun Home but then I related to this book more than Fun Home. My relationship with my dad isn't anywhere near as complex or problematic as my relationship with my mother. Mothers, they're a funny creature. I live in fear each day of the damage I'm doing to my own children. Apologies in advance my darlings, my intentions were never to harm you.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Reread 3/10/20: Opinion is still the same as below. Based on the reviews and reader comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere, Are You My Mother? is far less universally loved than its instant classic predecessor, Fun Home. It’s easy to understand why. I was actually on the fence early on with it myself: I even sort of wanted to shake Alison a little bit - you know, “Snap out of it!” She’s quite an erudite, cerebral person and apparently does tend to get trapped in the minutiae and angst of her head Reread 3/10/20: Opinion is still the same as below. Based on the reviews and reader comments I’ve seen here and elsewhere, Are You My Mother? is far less universally loved than its instant classic predecessor, Fun Home. It’s easy to understand why. I was actually on the fence early on with it myself: I even sort of wanted to shake Alison a little bit - you know, “Snap out of it!” She’s quite an erudite, cerebral person and apparently does tend to get trapped in the minutiae and angst of her head quite a bit, which translates into an intense, complex reading experience here. Thing is, I got sucked into it before too long, finding myself engrossed and enthralled with this exploration of her relationship with her (still-living) mother, which includes an exploration of psychological theory with 19th century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott and even Virginia Woolf (Virginia Woolf is my total Difficult Lit fave – time to read To The Lighthouse again soon). All of this and more is ultimately a further self-examination of the author herself, which she freely admits. Yes, all the Freud/ Winnicott stuff can get pretty heavy but I decided to take my time and in the end found the book an immersive, dreamlike experience, one which I will undoubtedly want to partake in again. As a bonus, longtime Twin Cities residents like me may thrill to scenes such as the one set in Orr Books, a now-defunct indie bookstore (where btw, I first encountered the work of Howard Cruse and was thus introduced to the wonderful world of queer cartooning); also long-time “Dykes to Watch Out For” readers will recognize several autobiographical elements delineated here as having translated into the strip at the time (circa late-80’s to early 90’s). So that healthy dollop of nostalgia in the mix added to the reading for me. The cartooning – no surprise - is superlative. The final Rob-o-Meter Goodreads score is 4 ½ stars but closer to 5 than 4, so we’ll give it the Full Star Monty and tell Alison to hurry up with the planned third volume in her family trilogy. Reread May 2015, w/ the similar verdict: still works, but give it time, read slowly for maximum enjoyment.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer (aka EM)

    I felt like I was reading this slowly - although clearly not, as I finished in two-three days or so. And even tho' I was processing throughout and after each section, I still feel that I need another five reads to get all of what Bechdel is saying here. Still. It's a tour de force which I'm sure I just read in one of the excellent reviews; either jo's; simon's; or moira's (and I'm sure there are many more). It's rich, complex, brave, stunning in its scope and depth. Multi-layered, dense and diffi I felt like I was reading this slowly - although clearly not, as I finished in two-three days or so. And even tho' I was processing throughout and after each section, I still feel that I need another five reads to get all of what Bechdel is saying here. Still. It's a tour de force which I'm sure I just read in one of the excellent reviews; either jo's; simon's; or moira's (and I'm sure there are many more). It's rich, complex, brave, stunning in its scope and depth. Multi-layered, dense and difficult - especially if you are new, as I am, to the psychoanalytic constructs explored and used as entry points and illustrations of Bechdel's experiences and relationships to her self, her mother, her work, her lovers, her analysis. etc etc. And so, I got maybe 20% of it. But even that is enough to recognize how brilliant it is - and I am still amazed not least by the way this form (graphic novel) can say SO MUCH, as much as my beloved novels, as much as To The Lighthouse which is another layer of the story; another theme, and which I can now re-read and maybe, hopefully understand better and embrace. Despite my own somewhat fraught experience with Woolf, that should be read as pretty high praise: Bechdel and Woolf. Working at the same level to explore uncover share expand people's understanding of [women's] lived emotional, psychic experiences. Laying themselves bare to do so. And you [I] just need to be a little bit courageous to accept the gift they are offering.

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