I’m describing Are You My Mother? to friends as a graphic memoir. Well, it’s definitely not a graphic novel; it’s more a reflection on the author’s own imagination.
In this intensely meta book, Alison Bechdel examines her relationship with her mother, her therapists, her girlfriends, and her art through the lens of psychoanalysts Freud, Donald Winnicot, and Alice Miller, as well as the work of Virigina Woolf. But as she uses these lenses to discuss her life and obsessions, she is discussing the art of memoir writing, how that art is cathartic for her and also how it affects her mother, the so-called subject of this memoir.
Is this book hard to get through? A bit. It relies heavily on the work of those psychoanalysts I mentioned, and several passages from their writing is reproduced in the book. Often, the narrative along the top of the strip is not synced up with the dialogue going on in the strip, although they comment on one another.
Is this book worthwhile to get through? Absolutely. Bechdel’s book is knowingly crafted as a memoir that is both simple in its scope, yet massive in its minute examination of moments in a childhood that define us. The drawings are an obvious enhancement to the text, providing more information in a simple expression that many words could offer.
I’m looking forward to discussing this with my book club next week!