From the best-selling author of Fun Home, Time magazine’s No. 1 Book of the Year, a brilliantly told graphic memoir of Alison Bechdel becoming the artist her mother wanted to be.
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood . . . and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning the mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Mother—to a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.
About Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel is the author of the bestselling memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which was named a Best Book of the Year by Time, Entertainment Weekly, New York Times, People, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, and San Francisco Chronicle, among others. For twenty-five years, she wrote and drew the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, a visual chronicle of modern life–queer and otherwise–considered “one of the preeminent oeuvres in the comics genre, period.” (Ms.) Bechdel is guest editor of Best American Comics, 2011, and has drawn comics for Slate, McSweeney’s, Entertainment Weekly, Granta, and The New York Times Book Review.
Though Bechdel had previously enjoyed a cult following with her longstanding comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, she raised the bar for graphic narrative with her book debut, Fun Home (2006). That memoir detailed her childhood in the family’s funeral home, her closeted and emotionally distant father’s bisexuality, his questionable death (an accident that was most likely a suicide) and the author’s own coming to terms with her sexuality. On the surface, this is the “mom book” following the previous “dad book.” Yet it goes more deeply into the author’s own psychology (her therapy, dreams, relationships) and faces a fresh set of challenges. For one thing, the author’s mother is not only still alive, but also had very mixed feelings about how much Bechdel had revealed about the family in the first volume. For another, the author’s relationship with her mother—who withheld verbal expressions of love and told her daughter she was too old to be tucked in and kissed goodnight when she turned seven—is every bit as complicated as the one she detailed with her father. Thus, Bechdel not only searches for keys to their relationship but perhaps even for surrogate mothers, through therapy, girlfriends and the writing of Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Alice Miller and others. Yet the primary inspiration in this literary memoir is psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, whose life and work Bechdel explores along with her own. Incidentally, the narrative also encompasses the writing of and response to Fun Home, a work that changed the author’s life and elevated her career to a whole new level. She writes that she agonized over the creation of this follow-up for four years. It is a book she had to write, though she struggled mightily to figure out how to write it. – Kirkus Reviews
Drawn Together - ‘Are You My Mother?’ by Alison Bechdel
The New York Times Book Review – April 27, 2012 (Excerpt)
If one is at first glance tempted to dismiss Alison Bechdel’s “Are You My Mother?” as a glorified comic strip, one would be wildly and woefully misguided: it is as complicated, brainy, inventive and satisfying as the finest prose memoirs.
Bechdel’s previous book, “Fun Home,” told the story of her father’s secret homosexuality, thwarted artistic expression and ultimate suicide, and of her own coming out in college. “Are You My Mother?” delves into her troubled relationship with her distant, unhappy mother, and into her own difficulties connecting with a series of long-term girlfriends. As she confides her tale, she also addresses her mother’s bluntly conflicted reaction to her art, and folds their struggle into the writing of the memoir itself. “I would love to see your name on a book,” her mother says. “But not on a book of lesbian cartoons.”
Bechdel weaves emotional honesty with highbrow deliberation in a way that is never burdensome, and mostly light. “Fun Home” is subtitled “A Family Tragicomic,” and in both books the tragedy and the comedy are so consummately entwined, so gloriously balanced, the reader can’t help being fascinated. “Are You My Mother?” manages to incorporate complicated and sometimes arcane references — to psychoanalysis and the theories of the pediatrician and psychiatrist Donald Winnicott, to the work of Virginia Woolf and Adrienne Rich — into a story that is gripping and funny and radiantly clear. [Read the full article...]
Artist, Draw Thyself (and Your Mother and Therapist)
The New York Times Book Review – May 2, 2012 (Excerpt)
For 25 years, from 1983 to 2008, Alison Bechdel wrote a buoyant comic strip that you could find only in America’s alternative weekly newspapers. Its title was “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and its combination of politics, college-town neuroses and heavy petting could make you blush. It was “Doonesbury” with all-girl sex scenes.
In 2006 Ms. Bechdel published an illustrated memoir, “Fun Home,” which put her on a new level as an artist. “Fun Home” was sinewy and dark yet recognizably Bechdelian. It combined her own coming-out story with a blazing portrait of her father, a tyrannical funeral director and obsessive Victorian-house restorer who was also a closeted gay man and possibly a suicide.
Ms. Bechdel returns now with a second memoir, this one about her mother, and it is — sometimes you need to come right out and say these things — not nearly so good. In fact “Are You My Mother?” flirts with being, front to back, somewhat actively dismal.
Its tone is therapized and flat. There’s no real narrative. Mixed in are multiple undigested chunks of text from writers like Virginia Woolf, Sigmund Freud and Alice Miller. If “Fun Home” was a book about a funeral home, “Are You My Mother?” is merely funereal. [Read the full article...]
‘Mother’ Dearest: Alison Bechdel’s Graphic Memoir
NPR Book Review – May 1, 2012 (Excerpt)
It’s a lot easier to write about a dead parent than a living one. Alison Bechdel’s new “comic drama,” Are You My Mother?, makes this abundantly clear. Fun Home, her amazing 2006 graphic memoir, was about her difficult, closeted gay father, who died shortly after she came out as a lesbian in college. This fascinating but demanding followup volumeexplores her uneasy relationship with her emotionally distant mother — who is not only alive but openly critical of Bechdel’s work.
Although Are You My Mother? takes its title from P.D. Eastman’s charming children’s classic about infant anxiety, there’s nothing whimsical about Bechdel’s strenuous excavation of her life and psyche.
She retraces the genesis of Fun Home and her even more arduous path to writing the very book we’re reading. Part of her challenge is that “the story of my mother and me is unfolding even as I write it.” Worse, she’s internalized her mother’s critical voice. [Read the full article...]
‘Are You My Mother?,’ a comic drama by Alison Bechdel
The Washington Post Book Review – May 31, 2012 (Excerpt)
In her fragmentary memoir “Moments of Being,” Virginia Woolf writes that she was obsessed with her mother, who died when Woolf was 13, until the age of 44, when she finally laid her to rest in her novel “To the Lighthouse.” Woolf shows up in the first chapter of Alison Bechdel’s inventive graphic memoir “Are You My Mother?”, strolling with her dog through a double-page spread depicting Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury in the mid-1920s.
The book is full of these surprises and diversions as Bechdel unravels her relationship with her own, still-living mother, with the help of therapists and thinkers both living and dead — most prominently the child psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, who tips his hat to Woolf in the Tavistock Square drawing. “I want him to be my mother,” Bechdel explains, lying with her head on a pillow on her therapist’s couch and wearing Harry Potter glasses. Winnicott was known for his compassionate approach to the relationship between mother and child, arguing that children did not need perfect parents but could thrive with an “ordinary devoted mother” — a phrase Bechdel borrows, rather longingly, for her first chapter title. [Read the full article...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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