Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel

Are you my Mother?
You REALLY have to like Bechdel’s style, story, and psyche to like this book. If you didn’t like Fun Home, you probably wouldn’t like AYMM; it’s like Fun Home but /more/. That being said, I absolutely loved Fun Home, so this deeply introspective journey into her most private thoughts and fears captivated me. I had never encountered another person who liked AYMM, even those who liked Fun Home; the critique seemed to be “Nothing happened, it was so boring, I was confused,” etc. One review I read observes that the plot seems to be building toward a “no wire hangers” moment, which never came; I would like to point out that this is a memoir written while Ms. Bechdel the elder was still alive and therefore– as the author herself points out, in one of many meta moments– it’s a story about trying to create a story from a collection of events. It’s not so much a book as it is a therapy diary, which I found interesting and enjoyable, in a weird way, but it’s not for everyone.

Where Bechdel draws largely on theatre, poetry, and mythology for Fun Home, AYMM draws heavily on psychoanalysis (primarily Winnicott and Freud, some supporting arguments made by Lacan) and Virginia Woolf (To the Lighthouse as well as her own private diaries) with some charming, disarming, and alarming references to Winnie the Pooh and Dr. Seuss thrown in as well. If you have no exposure to psychology or even any kind of dense academic text, be prepared to be confused. I’m an academic and I certainly was, but Bechdel’s commentary goes a long way toward illuminating psychoanalytic jargon and goes a step further by slapping you in the face with an example from her childhood.

Bechdel explores the beginning of her life as a lesbian in Fun Home, but AYMM deals with her adult relationships as well as her identity as a feminist and as a woman, both of which seem to be tied to her identity as a lesbian. I personally loved her discussion of Adrienne Rich, as well as the not-so-subtle connections between her mother, her girlfriends, and her therapists. Anyway, be prepared to do a lot of googling (what’s the difference between ego and superego again?) but your work will be well worthwhile. I recommend it, absolutely, to anyone who liked Fun Home but wanted to know more about Bechdel as an adult and/or more about her mother–who is present in Fun Home but definitely takes a backseat to the slow-burning scandal of Mr. Bechdel. Absolutely read Fun Home first; it is much more accessible and provides background for most of the conflict in AYMM.

Availability:  USMAI, COSMOS and SMCM
Review Submitted by:  Molly McGowan
Rating:  Recommended with reservations

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