Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama

3.8 20
by Alison Bechdel
     
 

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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:

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
There was a danger inherent in the bestselling microscopically examined autobiography of Bechdel’s Fun Home, namely that further work from this highly impressive artist could disappear so far down the rabbit hole of her own mind that readers might never find their way back out. Her first book since that masterful 2006 chronicle of her closeted father’s suicide narrowly avoids that fate, but is all the stronger for risking it. This Jungian “comic drama” finds Bechdel investigating the quiet combat of another relationship: that of her distant, critical mother and her own tangled, self-defeating psyche. Bechdel’s art has the same tightly observed aura of her earlier work, but with a deepening and loosening of style. The story, which sketches more of the author’s professional and personal life outside of her family, is spiderwebbed with anxiety and self-consciousness (“I was plagued... with a tendency to edit my thoughts before they even took shape”). There’s a doubling-back quality, mixed with therapeutic interludes that avoid self-indulgence and are studded with references to creative mentors like Virginia Woolf (another obsessive who yet took daring creative leaps), analyst Donald Winnicott, and Alice Miller. Though perhaps not quite as perfectly composed as Fun Home, this is a fiercely honest work about the field of combat that is family. (May)
Library Journal
Named best book of the year by Time magazine in 2006, Fun Home explored Bechdel's relationship with her distant, closeted gay father. This time, Bechdel's subject is her mother, a passionate lover of books, art, and music who showed her daughter little affection. As Bechdel works her way through her own life, she eventually works her way back to her mother. With a big national tour.
Kirkus Reviews
A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author's graphic-memoir masterpiece. Though Bechdel had previously enjoyed a cult following with her longstanding 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 seven--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 writing 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.
Joanna Scutts
The book is heavy with text: e-mails from her mother, newspaper clippings, extracts from [Donald] Winnicott and [Virginia] Woolf, letters and diaries, all meticulously transcribed. Bechdel turns words into spidery, painstaking art and imbues even soulless computer typefaces with a consistent personality, so that her presence is palpable in every tiny, wavering line…much of the book is made up of ordinary moments that would seem to offer an artist little to work with: thinking, reading e-mail, talking on the telephone. Yet it's in these mundane moments that the deadpan wit and honesty of Bechdel's writing shines.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher
"Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It's also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking."—Jonathan Safran Foer , author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated

"Many of us are living out the unlived lives of our mothers. Alison Bechdel has written a graphic novel about this; sort of like a comic book by Virginia Woolf. You won't believe it until you read it—and you must!"—Gloria Steinem

"This book is not so much the sequel to Alison Bechdel’s captivating memoir Fun Home, as the maternal yin to its paternal yang. Bravely worrying out the snarled web of missed connections that bedevil her relationship with her remarkable mother from the very start, Bechdel deploys everyone from Virginia Woolf to D.W. Winnicott (the legendary psychoanalytic theorist who comes to serve as her quest’s benign fairy godfather) to untie the snares of a fraught past. She arrives, at long last, at something almost as shimmering as it is simple: a grace-flecked accommodation and an affirming love."—Lawrence Weschler , author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences and Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative

"A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author’s graphic-memoir masterpiece." —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"[Bechdel's] lines and angles are sharper than in Fun Home, and yet her self-image and her views of family members, lovers, and analysts are thorough, clear, and kind. Mothers, adult daughters, literati, memoir fans, and psychology readers are among the many who will find this outing a rousing experience . . . This may be the most anticipated graphic novel of the year." —Booklist, starred review

"A fiercely honest work about the field of combat that is family." —Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Are You My Mother? offers an improbably profound master class in how to live an examined life . . . More moving and illuminating than Fun Home." —Elle

"The best writers, whether they are creating fiction or nonfiction, are trying to find out what makes people human for better and for worse. A taut, complex book within several books, Bechdel’s investigation of her relationship with her mother and the work of pioneering psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott offers the most articulate answer you’re likely to ingest. You’ll feel like Alice climbing your way out the jagged rabbit hole to limbo." —Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780618982509
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
05/01/2012
Pages:
304
Sales rank:
555,175
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
 "In Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel poses an infinity of thought-provoking questions about women, literature, feminism, family bonds, psychology and the complicated relationship between therapist and patient...The book is a page turner, thanks in part to Bechdel's lovely and subtle illustrations. Bechdel's examination of her relationship with her mother also touches on the universal push and pull between mothers and children...The book's transcendent ending is Bechdel's expression of love for her own 'good enough mother.'"—USA Today

"Sad, funny, sprawling graphic memoir...An intensely personal, specific story, but Bechdel's imaginative narrative techniques make it easily as compelling as any fiction...Its stylistic flexibility accomodates more layers than any straight documentary or prose memoir could support...This work is her link in the long chain connecting her foremothers and their daughters and all of the other women who shaped her."—The Atlantic

"A staggering achievement...Although Bechdel utilizes all the features of the graphic-novel form, she is so intelligent and perceptive that this story of self-discovery (an abused term, but never more apt) would still be compelling if told only in prose...Are You My Mother? is a masterwork that gracefully documents the torture that sensitive people can put themselves through while searching for the casual movers of their lives."—The Daily Beast

"Are You My Mother? is a tremendously intimate work, more so even than Fun Home. Taken together, the two books are a practical guide to the complicated, unspoken negotiations that take place between children and their parents, those sphinxlike beings who give us life and then promptly deal us near fatal psychic wounds.Watching Bechdel dig into the underworld of her subconscious is paradoxically uplifting. The courage and rigor with which she examines her life make readers feel as if their own secrets might not be quite so unspeakable."—Lev Grossman, Time Magazine

"...Magnificent...Whatever issues Bechdel has with her mother, one always has the sense that she likes her as much as she loves her. That affection — and the real sense one gets of her mother reading these pages, running her finger over the tenderly drawn panels of their history — gives this book an urgency and an intimacy that Fun Home, in retrospect, lacked...Bechdel's triumph is not just that she's emerged from her tunnel, with weary but clear eyes, but that she's brought her mother with her. Grade: A"—Entertainment Weekly

"...Are You My Mother is as complicated, brainy, inventive and satisfying as the finest prose memoirs...The tragedy and comedy are so entwined, so gloriously balanced, the reader can't help being fascinated. The book delivers lightening bolts of revelation...I haven't encountered a book about being an artist, or about the punishing entanglements of mothers and daughters, as engaging, profound or original as this one in a long time. In fact, the book made such a deep impression on me that after reading it I walked around for days seeing little bits and snatches of my life as Alison Bechdel drawings."—The New York Times Book Review

"Are You My Mother is a work of the most humane kind of genius, bravely going right to the heart of things: why we are who we are. It's also incredibly funny. And visually stunning. And page-turningly addictive. And heartbreaking."—Jonathan Safran Foer , author of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Everything is Illuminated

"Many of us are living out the unlived lives of our mothers. Alison Bechdel has written a graphic novel about this; sort of like a comic book by Virginia Woolf. You won't believe it until you read it—and you must!"—Gloria Steinem

"This book is not so much the sequel to Alison Bechdel’s captivating memoir Fun Home, as the maternal yin to its paternal yang. Bravely worrying out the snarled web of missed connections that bedevil her relationship with her remarkable mother from the very start, Bechdel deploys everyone from Virginia Woolf to D.W. Winnicott (the legendary psychoanalytic theorist who comes to serve as her quest’s benign fairy godfather) to untie the snares of a fraught past. She arrives, at long last, at something almost as shimmering as it is simple: a grace-flecked accommodation and an affirming love."—Lawrence Weschler , author of Everything that Rises: A Book of Convergences and Uncanny Valley: Adventures in the Narrative "A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author’s graphic-memoir masterpiece."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    "[Bechdel's] lines and angles are sharper than in Fun Home, and yet her self-image and her views of family members, lovers, and analysts are thorough, clear, and kind. Mothers, adult daughters, literati, memoir fans, and psychology readers are among the many who will find this outing a rousing experience . . . This may be the most anticipated graphic novel of the year."— Booklist, starred review     "A fiercely honest work about the field of combat that is family."—Publishers Weekly, starred review "Are You My Mother? offers an improbably profound master class in how to live an examined life . . . More  moving and illuminating than Fun Home."—Elle

"The best writers, whether they are creating fiction or nonfiction, are trying to find out what makes people human for better and for worse. A taut, complex book within several books, Bechdel’s investigation of her relationship with her mother and the work of pioneering psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott offers the most articulate answer you’re likely to ingest. You’ll feel like Alice climbing your way out the jagged rabbit hole to limbo."—Library Journal

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