I'm in a bit behind in my reviews. I actually finished Bechdel's latest a few weeks ago but haven't written any thoughts until now. I attended the signing for this book with my sister at the beginning of May and had a really nice time. After leaving the signing I was so excited to read this book. I loved her first memoir, Fun Home, and assumed the follow-up would have to be just as good. But you know what they say about assuming...
I didn't dislike this book altogether, it was just really hard for me to get beyond Bechdel's over-the-top self-absorption. It permeated the whole book in a way that felt like I was listening to a stranger complain about their problems for two hours, which is never fun. It really took away from the story as a whole. Let me explain: Are You My Mother? is very meta, which is to say the majority of the book concerns Bechdel's self; the story as a whole is very internal, recursive, and interior. We spend the majority of the novel inside Alison's head (Alison the character) as she attempts to piece together her identity, her faults, and her weaknesses in terms of the relationship she has with her mother. We go to Alison's therapy sessions, and more of Alison's therapy sessions, in which she discusses her mother, her childhood, her failed relationships, and her own psychoanalysis. These therapy sessions are never ending. Page after page, complaint and complaint; I'm all for the coming of age, story of self-awakening, but at times this book felt exhausting. Did I mention the therapy sessions?
With that said, the book does offer a lot to digest. Much of the novel is preoccupied with the writings of child psychoanalysis Donald Winnicot, and Bechdel incorporates his ideas into her story in a way that feels relevant and even at times, interesting. There are many layers and endless metaphors that come together and keep it interesting. The relationship Alison has with her mother is one of the many strands of the book. Virginia Woolf makes an appearance as a character, and Alison uses Woolf to make connections between her own dairy, memoir writing, and fiction writing. She also examines the idea of the transitional object; who has whom between a mother and a child?
At Bechdel's reading she described the narrative of the book as an "emotion excavation." I'm happy she found a way to let it all out, but for me as a reader, I lost interest quickly. In the end, I would really recommend Fun Home and if you happen to stumble across Are You My Mother?, I'd say skip it. (And really, I am quite pained to say that, as I was so very excited about this book.)
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin, 2012