Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother?: A Comic DramaAre You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This sequel to FUN HOME follows Bechdel into adulthood and explores her fraught relationship with her emotionally distant mother, a mother who had been raised to believe boys were more important than girls. While I loved FUN HOME unequivocally, this one didn’t affect me quite as strongly. Bechdel spends more time on her own psychotherapeutic history and the story of psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott than on her family life, which for me was what made FUN HOME so interesting. Regardless, ARE YOU MY MOTHER is actually quite good and succeeded in keeping my attention, perhaps thanks to my own interest in psychology. The art is as good and evocative as it was in FUN HOME, as is Bechdel’s storytelling. I suspect what disappointment I have with the memoir, which is actually quite minimal, stems solely from the fact that it doesn’t tell the story I wanted it to. Because FUN HOME was so focused on Bechdel’s memories of her father while growing up, I wanted the same thing here but with a focus on memories of her mother. That’s not what this is. ARE YOU MY MOTHER is a different kind of book altogether. Not a worse one, not a lesser one, just a different one — although, admittedly, one that didn’t grip me as strongly.

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Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family TragicomicFun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had been wanting to read FUN HOME since a friend of mine who owned a comic book store recommended it to me back in 2006 or ’07. It promptly slipped my mind, but after seeing the amazing Broadway musical recently, my desire to read the graphic novel was renewed. I’m glad I did because I absolutely loved it! The writing is witty and engaging, with Bechdel’s personality coming through in every word. The art is evocative without overpowering the words or the emotions behind them. The story is deeply affecting. Most of us have awful childhoods in one form or another, but Bechdel’s childhood relationship with her difficult, moody, closeted father, culminating ultimately in his suicide, ought to come off as excruciatingly painful. Instead, it comes off as deceptively mundane, just as I imagine most of our awful childhoods would when viewed from the distance adulthood grants us, and I found that to be the perfect tone for this book.

Additionally, for me, part of the joy of reading FUN HOME was seeing in retrospect how they adapted certain scenes — and even just certain concepts — for the stage. They’re different entities in many ways, the memoir and the musical, but they share a big, glorious, beating heart. It’s easy to see why FUN HOME was a bestseller and award winner, not to mention why it’s so widely beloved and even taught in schools. It’s a great story, beautifully told, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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