I was introduced to Alison Bechdel, and became enamored of her vulnerability and honesty, with her graphic novel "Fun Home", which was a bit of a phenomenon in the literary world. In publishing this book, she exorcises the demons foisted upon her primarily because of the dysfunction in her family while growing up, her father's closet tendencies, his questionable death, and her coming out as a lesbian. I so thoroughly enjoyed this book that I was sure I'd read anything she ever published.
Synopsis: While "Fun Home" is the story of Alison's life, with a focus on her father, "Are You My Mother?" is a type of journal...a behind-the-scenes evaluation of her state of mind while writing that book. This time, it is focused more on the relationship between Alison and her mother. How will her mother react to such a brutally honest expose of their lives? Why has their relationship been so strained? Why was her mother so distant from Alison while growing up, when she was so doting on Alison's brothers?
Focusing her thoughts inward, Alison closely examines the works of Donald Winnicott, a famous psychoanalyst who coined the term "the good-enough mother". She replays sessions with her two different shrinks over the years. She meanders through the works of Virginia Woolf to study the author's relationships with her parents. She also reveals her mother's background...a woman bursting with creativity and love of the arts, but sacrificing it all for her husband and children. A woman who gives up the goodnight kiss and basically all touching after Alison turns seven.
My thoughts: As much as it pains me to say this, I found this book extremely disappointing. I admire Bechdel, and I understand what she is trying to accomplish by writing this book, but her navel-gazing and obsession with finding answers about herself and her mother is so intense and angst-ridden it's exhausting.
When Bechdel reveals her mother's background, I was intrigued and entertained. And a little sad, for so many reasons. The sudden decision to stop kissing her daughter goodnight at such a young age made me want to cry. Granted, the reader gets very little insight into what made her mother tick, but was an interesting examination of family dynamics. And you further understand why Alison suffers so as an adult. What became laborious was all the probing into the theories of various scientists, the dream analysis, the self-flagellation, the rolling around in the muck of unresolved childhood psychosis. Often it is stream-of-consciousness, the train of thought wandering and alighting on any topic that has haunted Bechdel in her lifetime. I felt bad for her, but at the same time, it was more than I signed on for when I picked up the book.
This is not the same book that "Fun Home" was. Not even close. With respect to Alison, I sincerely hope that writing this book was cathartic for her. But it is not something I would recommend.
2 out of 5 stars