5.06.2012

"You must be very angry at your mother."

Are You My Mother? (Alison Bechdel)

Graphic memoir. Having branded Fun Home "Don't miss!" (related entry here), I wanted to read Bechdel's follow-up memoir on its release. Reviews have been mixed, though, even within one publication: the NYT and the NYT; Slate, Kirkus Reviews, and NPR.

And my own review is somewhat mixed, too. Intelligent, insightful, and abundantly gifted with both text and illustration, Bechdel blends personal history, including conversations with her therapists, with wisdom culled from her close reading of both Donald Winnicott and Virginia Woolf -- all in an effort to navigate what some have described as the most fraught relationship in the world: mother and daughter. Heady and universal stuff, right? So why am I not responding to it with the same degree of discovery and appreciation that  underscored my reading of Fun Home? I wondered. Then, the following exchange (pp. 200-203) between Bechdel and her mother helped me define my vague sense of frustration with parts of the work:
"The self has no place in good writing."

"Uhhh...Yeah, but don't you think that... That if you write minutely and rigorously enough about your own life... You can, you know, transcend your particular self?"

"Wallace Stevens wrote transcendent poetry, and he never used the word 'I.'"
I'm a fan of rigorous -- ruthless, even -- self-evaluation, but in some sections of Are You My Mother? writing "minutely and rigorously" resulted in the opposite of transcending "your particular self" -- and it was in those narrative weak spots that I grew restless.

That said, I do recommend this book, particularly to those who heeded my Fun Home recommendation.

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