featurebanner_bechdelAYMM_reviewAMBER LOVE 08-JAN-2012 I feel like I need to preface any review of ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by stating that I never read FUN HOME, Bechdel’s earlier critically acclaimed OGN. When I heard about Fun Home and what it was about, I thought it would be far too depressing for me to get any entertainment value out of it. When I heard that Bechdel wrote a following book about her mother and none of the details seemed as depressing, I was game to try it. It was a Christmas present from one of my own readers and I’ll awkwardly say I’m glad I didn’t spend my own money it.

Are-You-My-Mother-CoverThat sounds terribly harsh about a book with such care and quality put into it. The bottom line is that I didn’t enjoy ARE YOU MY MOTHER? for several reasons. First, it’s deceptively titled. Bechdel’s mother is literally a barely-there character in the background. It is about Bechdel’s many years in therapy which is utterly confusing, out of sequence, and riddled like a pox with inserts from her self-help Psychology studies.

Bechdel’s relationships are the brunt of so much weight. In particular her long relationship with Eloise which incidentally is not her longest romantic relationship but the only one she gives any real insight into leaving me to believe Eloise was likely her “true love” much as anyone can such a thing and that her longer relationship with Amy was more like settling. There had to be some reason Amy was barely a mention when they were together so much longer. But still, this only incites more confusion in me as a reader wondering where the hell her mother is in all this. Bechdel talked to her mother very often and she took notes of their conversations in order have material for her books. There are a few key scenes that are thoughtful and raw when she shows how cold and depressed her mother was. This book could have been two chapters if it was actually about the mother-daughter relationship.

All of the constant content about Psychologists of the past and Virginia Woolf truly made me want to toss the book in the wood stove to provide me with heat if it couldn’t provide me with story. If I wanted to read a text book, I’d go get a text book.

The bizarre choices Bechdel made for the order of presentation left me shaking me head quite a bit. I’d think I was in one moment in time but she had flashed back then forward then further back to someone else’s life then into dreams and then back to the “A” story. She didn’t even get to the “A” story until Chapter 3. In that chapter, I came across one of the panels I absolutely hated, on page 98. Bechdel is finally talking about her mother’s depression.

One of the captions reads:

“Then one Sunday morning in church, she was looking at the hat of the lady in front of her. It was exquisitely trimmed, but the woman had left her needle and thread in it. Mama had laughed out loud, and the depression was gone, just like that.”

AS IF it were the real way depression is cured. This – came from the same text where 50% of the 289 pages are quotes from Psychology text books!

It was quite honestly some of the worst sequential writing I’ve ever read. I’m no scholar. I don’t read every single best seller. I wanted to read this one because of Bechdel and I was disappointed.

What I did love was Bechdel’s art. I love her illustrations and how she makes panel layout look easy. The only artist moments I didn’t have an easy time with were that two of her own therapists look so much alike, I didn’t realize they were different at times. I think she’s an exceptional cartoonist and deserves her ranking among best sellers but perhaps for FUN HOME and not for ARE YOU MY MOTHER?

3 comments on “Review: ARE YOU MY MOTHER? A COMIC DRAMA by Alison Bechdel”

  1. Hello Amber, I had just bought this book, but read Fun Home, so these set of comments are coming from someone who read Fun Home, and about to start reading Are You My Mother?…. You will probably enjoy Fun Home a bit … or a lot more than Are You My Mother? Reading what the book is about doesn’t quite explore the depth of the overall images and messages it can portray. This is why Bechdel did not simply wrote it in prose, nor did she write it in like a traditional graphic novel. It’s more like a prose “plus” book, because the images and sequences she portrays seem to need a visual dimension of illustration, but at the same time still needs the imaginative synthesiss that comes form prose and reading the blank space in between panels of sequential art. That said, what Fun Home was about is much more than the plain prose words that may have deceived you into thinking it’s an exclusively-depressing read. It’s not, and the added dimensions of illustration and prose speaks to the complexity of the subject matter, how different people deal with it, and how it fits into our lives in obvious and subtle ways. There is also a very nuanced beauty and sweetness of her relationship and understanding with her father, which is undercut by the more obvious aspects of their life and their relationship. Maybe this will change your mind into reading Fun Home. I will come back and comment when I winish Are You My Mother? Keep up the good work.

    • Hi, John

      Did you post a review of FUN HOME on goodreads by any chance? I read through several reviews for AYMM on goodreads and they seem to agree with your sentiments that FUN HOME is quite different. If I were to give it a shot, I’d want to know that it’s a story about her father or her relationship with her father and not transcripts of her therapy sessions which were not good material.

      Amber

  2. That was probably not me at Goodreads.

    To answer your question, if Fun Home about her relationship with her father. It’s a bit complicated. Short answer is, definitely yes, it is about her and her relationship with her father. The long answer (without hinting at spoilers) is that Bechdel used what they lacked in their relationship per se to convey what she eventually profoundly understood about him, thus making them closer at the time she made those realizations. This specific nuance of Fun Home is what makes their story and their relationship so beautifully sweet, but ultimately tragically bitter because of the circumstances of how things unfolded.

    Hope this is more helpful than confusing,
    -John

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