Are You My Mother? Alison Bechdel

Posted 20 February, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 15 Comments

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Title: Are You My Mother?
Author: Alison Bechdel
Published: 2012; Pages: 288
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Rating: Will my kids feel this way about me?!

In Short: Bechdel examines her relationship with her mother using the framing of Donald Winnicott’s psychoanalytical theories.

Why I Read It: I read Fun Home several years ago (twice!) and really loved it. Sadly I could never formulate a proper post. When looking for books for Comics February, I knew I had to read this one (which I haven’t heard anything about).

Thoughts in General: Oh boy. Or should I say Oh Mother!? I wish I could write this post without making comparisons to Fun Home, Bechdel’s book about her father’s bisexuality and suicide as well as Bechdel’s own teenage years. But since much of her agonizing over the writing of Fun Home appears in Are You My Mother, I’m taking the bait. This is not Fun Home. It’s not even Fun. In AYMM, Bechdel analyzes her relationship with her mother through the lens of the psychoanalytic theories of Donald Winnicot. While there are many flashbacks to Bechdel’s youth, most of the book is about her writing this book and Fun Home and her mother’s reaction to her writing these books.

Sounds kind of complicated, yes? I really felt that it was. The timeline in the book isn’t necessarily linear and I had a tough time remembering which conversation with her mother took place during which time in her life, etc etc. Scattered throughout the illustrations are Winnicot’s theories of motherhood and a mother’s relationship with her children. I found these very difficult to follow and wrap my brain around–it would have been much easier, I think, to just read Winnicot’s theories than have them taken from context and put into Bechdel’s memoirs.

By the end of the book I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to take away from the story other than Bechdel’s deep-seated grief and mourning over her relationship with her mom. It was a tough read for so many reasons and ultimately it just made me want to be a better mother to my girls. I know that with this type of memoir we only see what the author wants us to see but goodness–it made me think about just how much impact a parent has on a child.

The upside? I LOVE Bechdel’s illustrations. In the snapshot below you can see the frustration, grief, disappointment, and hurt on her face. In many ways this is a heartbreaking and tough read and the illustrations really capture Bechdel’s emotions. That alone was worth the rough and bumpy journey. Mostly.

Bottom Line: Don’t go into Are You My Mother expecting Fun Home–while much of Bechdel’s style is similar, the foray into psychoanalysis gives Are You My Mother a very different feel. If this hadn’t been a graphic book–or if I did not like Bechdel’s graphic style so much–I wouldn’t have finished this one.

Have you read any of Bechdel’s works? What did you think?  

What was the last book you finished more for perseverance than enjoyment?

15 Responses to “Are You My Mother? Alison Bechdel”

  1. So you decided to finish this one. I don’t know anything about Bechdel and haven’t read her work but it sounds like she struggled with her relationships with her parents. I’m not sure this memoir is for me but I might try Fun Home.

  2. That passage you shared is really heartbreaking. Not everyone gets what they need from their parents. .. Hopefully she found the love and comfort she needed elsewhere.

    I liked Fun Home but tried reading this one and couldn’t finish it. I’m glad you did.

  3. I read Fun Home and I liked it a lot at first, but I was also never able to formulate a review and it’s faded from memory a lot. I think I might pass on this one. Sounds cringe-worthy in spots.

  4. I don’t think this sounds like one for me. I’m not sure if I could really process the topic in graphic novel form. I think the last book I ended up finishing just because I was going to finish it I ended up hating the author and the subject for awhile!

  5. I don’t really persevere anymore. If I don’t like a book or even a movie, I stop and move on. But I don’t think I’ve ever given up because the subject matter got heavy. If something is well done, then I’ll follow it to the end. I think I may end up putting some graphic novels on hold at the library after the TBR Triple Dog Dare is done. You all have inspired me this month.

  6. I TOLD YOU NOT TO READ IT!!

    Hahaha, but yeah. There were a really few parts of this I liked, like when she found out that her mum had really bad depression when Bechdel was younger and kind of rethinking some of her childhood through that lens, but it did get incredibly navel-gazing-y for me. Just, overly stuck inside her head, and not enough story at all.