Oh, Alison Bechdel, why do you do this to me? You publish these books that look like comic books, which sets the mind at easy and then you sock me with a text that requires considerably more concentration than I needed to read Ulysses. And, really, did you have to title this latest Are You My Mother? I read that title and I think of the bird hopping around in a kid’s book.
Well, this ain’t no kid’s book.
Are You My Mother? is a companion book to Bechdel’s graphic memoir about her father’s closeted life and suicide, Fun Home. I found that first book challenging and intriguing, well worth the effort. This latest knocked me on my ass. In a good way.
Somewhere about a third of the way through Are You My Mother?, while trying to keep track of the various therapists and partners that act as signposts for the different time periods Bechdel threads through the book, I thought to myself, “I’m just going to have to read this again when I’m done.” As someone once told me, “You never read Ulysses for the first time.”
Bechdel weaves psychoanalytic theory and history, Adrienne Rich, and Virginia Woolf in with what appears at first glance to be a rambling through time. In fact, Bechdel doesn’t ramble but tightly controls the twists and turns of the text as she explores her relationship with her mother and her own psyche. She leaves the reader subtle visual clues to help guide readers on their way through the speeding train of a labyrinth that is this book.
Bechdel is a bit like graphic writing’s answer to Woody Allen, were he smarter, funnier, and far less annoying. And also not married to his stepdaughter. And a lesbian. So, really not like Woody Allen at all, except for the lots-of-therapy bit.
At any rate, go read Are You My Mother? But not at the beach. Read something lighter and easier there, like Joyce.