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ARE YOU MY MOTHER? by Alison Bechdel Kirkus Star

ARE YOU MY MOTHER?

A Comic Drama

By Alison Bechdel (Author) , Alison Bechdel (Illustrator)

Pub Date: May 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-618-98250-9
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author’s graphic-memoir masterpiece.

Though Bechdel had previously enjoyed a cult following with her long-standing 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 7—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 writings 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.

Subtitled “A Comic Drama,” the narrative provides even fewer laughs than its predecessor but deeper introspection.