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Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison…
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Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama (original 2012; edition 2012)

by Alison Bechdel

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
8385410,749 (3.72)77
Member:Tafadhali
Title:Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Authors:Alison Bechdel
Info:Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2012), Edition: First Edition, Hardcover, 304 pages
Collections:Your library, Gore St. Collection (inactive)
Rating:***1/2
Tags:comics, (auto)biography, american, 21st century, read, read: 2012, fiction

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Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel (2012)

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Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
A lot of work went into this book, so it's with a heavy heart that I admit that I didn't enjoy this as much as "Fun Home." This isn't so much an ode to Bechdel's mother as an ode to psychoanalysis. Bechdel puts so much stock into the subject that it slows down the narrative. The book shines with descriptions of her mother as an artist. Helen Bechdel was introduced to us in "Fun Home," Alison's graphic memoir about her relationship with her father. But the author weaves in a study of the work of psychiatrist Donald Winnicott and excerpts from author Virginia Woolf to tie in the theme of mother and daughter relationships, but it sort of gets in the way of itself. Perhaps the problem is that Bechdel never understood her mother, so she has to look at her through the lens of psychoanalysis.

It's pretty telling that Bechdel openly admits her guilt in exposing her mother in "Fun Home." I believe this is why she hits us hard with psychoanalysis, as a way to ease that guilt while simultaneously revealing the fear that it can never be eased. Bechdel seems to go through these cycles of frustration in her sessions with her various psychologists: she gets close to admitting her anger at her mother, then clams up anxiously and diverts the negativity towards herself. The book itself follows this pattern. She gets close to hitting hard emotional truths about her mother, then backs off with panels featuring clinical text from other writers. This seems to fit how she was raised: the family is described as more likely to speak of other writers to each other than to speak of affection for each other.

Bechdel's illustrative style is very good and I think it even improved since "Fun Home." It's worth the read, especially if the reader enjoyed her earlier work. ( )
  StoutHearted | Aug 13, 2015 |
Another perfect book by Alison Bechdel. I think her mother is possibly the most enigmatic woman in the world. I've never read an entire book about someone and ended feeling that I knew less about them than when I started. That isn't quite the case here, but it's close.


---I was hoping to get this for Mother's Day. I got it today, for my birthday. Yes, I read too many books at one time. Sue me. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
This feels like less a memoir about the author's mother, and rather more like a book report on Winnicott's work. Far too many quotations, which don't mesh with the graphic novel form that well. I find Fun Home a lot more readable and moving. ( )
  litalex | Jun 2, 2015 |
Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel is the follow up to Fun Home, a book about growing up in a mortuary. This book is completely focused on the author's relationship (or lack there of) with her mother, and the authors extensive years of therapy.

So reading a book by the creator of the Bechdel test, the first question is, does it pass. Yes. It passes by dint of having no male characters in it. Is it an interesting book? No. Was it a catharsis for the author, probably.

What I've learned from slogging through this graphic novel is that the author had (or maybe has) a hard time letting go of painful memories. Her mother wasn't particularly maternal and her father was suffering from depression (but he's only mentioned in passing) and the author spent more time in therapy that in writing this book.

But there was no character growth. No plot. No humor. No rise and fall to the emotions. Just lots and lots and lots of therapy recreated in a graphic novel format.

If you have issues with your mother, then this memoir might be for you. If you are a rabid fan of the author's comics, this book might be for you. Everyone else can probably skip this one. ( )
  pussreboots | May 4, 2015 |
Like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home before it, Are You My Mother? is the deeply personal memoir of her relationship with her mother. Like Fun Home, this book is not about her mother herself, but more about Bechdel's complicated feelings and relationship with her mother - if this sounds like an invitation to a Freudian joke, brace yourself.

Like Proust, Joyce, and other authors that she used to try and connect with her father, Bechdel sees the relationship between her mother and herself through the work of a psychoanalyst named Donald Winnicott, and the sessions she has with her therapist in which they discuss Bechdel's mother. This leads to such "breakthroughs" as dream interpretation, Freudian slips, and other pieces of psychoanalytic jargon that have largely been debunked. While I try to keep an open mind, some of the breakthroughs seemed to be almost a parody of the therapeutic session. As one of my friends who studied psychology once dryly told me, "You learn Freud so that they can tell you how wrong he was."

One session includes this scene:

CAPTION: I had made two copies of the manuscript. One for Mom, and one for me to refer to when I talked to her. I put my copy in a re-used folder.

BECHDEL: Then I noticed it's the folder I took notes on in our "reaction formation" session a couple months ago. Remember? I was talking about my awful gnawing envy of other people's success?
JOCELYN: I remember!
BECHDEL: You said I'd reversed my own aggression, turned it on myself, and I felt this immediate relief! I wonder if writing the book is a way of directing my aggression out instead of in? And that's why I put it in this particular folder? (pg. 164)

To quote somebody or other - sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

This same premise was used for Fun Home; Bechdel saw parallels in her reading with her relationship and how she felt about her father, which worked in tandem to show and elucidate her complicated feelings. But what was charming in that one was annoying and tiresome here, unless you happen to devoutly believe in dream interpretation.

That said, the same reliance on Freudian and Jungian symbolism is precisely what makes Bechdel's artwork so powerful. In one scene, a memory from when she was young and joined her mother in watching a show, the background chatter of the characters illuminates the subtext of a tense exchange between her mother and herself:

CHARACTER: It's a hard question, the hardest I've ever had to answer.
MOTHER: Do you love me? (pg. 86)

Every detail of her drawings, even the faintest suggestions of colors (reds and pinks, whereas Fun Home had a blue theme), are symbolic and highlight what is being said beneath the dialogue. Bechdel's artwork in general, as always, balances flawlessly between realism and cartoon. She intersperses her scenes with pages of books, letters, photographs, and other ephemera, which seems more like a collage or scrapbook than a flat book - which is appropriate, given the subject of family.

My annoyance with the constant analysis - there is a reason aspiring novelists are often told that no one cares about someone else's dreams - softened toward the end, when I began to see it in a more metaphorical light. Maybe that's what Bechdel was going for originally, and maybe not; I cannot say. But she uses To the Lighthouse as a framing device later and there is a note that is significant, which links Winnicott's theories on objects and subjects, as well as the resentment she feels toward her mother for not supporting her the way she wants, but also the dependence and reliance (that is, mothers: can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em).

While still glittering with a sharp intellectual mind, smudged with beautiful drawings, and sinking in subtext, I cannot say that Are You My Mother? lived up to my expectations after following the - in my opinion - superior Fun Home*.

* If we're delving into symbolism, is it meaningful that I prefer the memoir-of-the-father over the mother's, considering Bechdel accuses her own mother of showing preference to the men in the family over her? Ah, well.
( )
  kittyjay | Apr 23, 2015 |
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Epigraph
"For nothing was simply one thing." ~ Virginia Woolf
Dedication
For my mother, who knows who she is.
First words
While engaged in some sort of home-improvement project, I inadvertently block my exit from a dank cellar.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618982507, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:12 -0400)

Alison Bechdels 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 Bechdels own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And, finally, back to Motherto a truce, fragile and real-time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.… (more)

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