Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home was a pop culture and literary phenomenon. Now, a second thrilling tale of filial sleuthery, this time about her mother: voracious reader, music lover, passionate amateur actor. Also a woman, unhappily married to a closeted gay man, whose artistic aspirations simmered u
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I was a big fan of Alison Bechdel’s “Fun Home” when it came out 6 years ago, it was an interesting and insightful memoir about her growing up in a funeral home with a father who was secretly homosexual and would later commit suicide, and then discovering that she was gay as well. It was an excellent book that I would recommend to all comics fans but also readers in general, so I was looking forward to this follow-up, this time the focus supposedly being on her mother. What more revelations could
The book gets off to an uneasy and rambling start with Bechdel bewailing a lack of clarity when writing this book. It begins with a kind of dream, then segues into the then-present (most of the mum-stuff in the “now” is set circa 2009) before going off on a tangent to Virginia Woolf and then back to her mum in the present. I waited for the book to settle down and expected Bechdel to begin telling her mother’s story which she does, in part, in between scenes where she visits a series of therapists talking about her own neuroses, and talking – and quoting at length – psychoanalysts she’s been reading.
This isn’t really a memoir about her mum, it’s only one part of the book. And if we were to look only at that, we wouldn’t find much. Her mum went through spells of depression, and it can’t have been easy married to a closet-homosexual with a horrible temper, but she just isn’t as interesting a person to read about as Bechdel’s dad was.
The rest of the book is mostly a mish-mash of anecdotes about psychology. Bechdel writes about various psychologists whose work has had an impact on her life, trying to get a better relationship with her mum and helping her through her tangled web of relationships with other lesbians and this part of the book, repeatedly returned to, is by far the most tedious to read. She doesn’t write about them as much as she copies out entire passages from their books, highlighting sentences here and there. Unless you have an interest in psychology – and I don’t – this part of the book is just dully academic to read.
She also writes about Virginia Woolf at length, quoting “To The Lighthouse” frequently, and I have to say after reading “Mrs Dalloway” a couple of years ago, I’m no fan of Woolf. I found when Bechdel began quoting Woolf at length, coupled with the psychology textbook copy and pasting, that I was becoming even more uninterested in this book.
So besides the psychobabble textbook quoting, the Woolf stuff, more psychobabble in the therapist scenes, and a look at her mother’s fairly ordinary life, what’s left? Not much I’m afraid. The structure is very wobbly, the scenes merging strangely with no real idea of what the whole is supposed to be. It’s not much fun to read and boy is it long at nearly 300 pages, made longer with the extensive psychology passages. By the end I was just glad to get it over with.
Bechdel’s art is great, but the writing needed some serious editing as it’s meandering, tangential narrative is too unclear as to what it’s supposed to be. It started out as a look at her mum’s life and wound up being about Bechdel’s own, frankly overblown (as Chris Rock calls them “white people problems”) neurotic sensibilities and it’s not much fun to read about her figuring them out. It doesn’t feel like it’s worth an entire book and “Are You My Mother?” is, in the end, a very weak follow-up to “Fun Home” containing far too much intellectual posturing and not enough substance. Not a great read though I’m sure psychology students will probably love it to bits.
A new chlorine-resistant swimsuit? Is there such a thing? I think that means swimming in the buff- but what do I know?
Got your attention? Great,….this is one hell of a sophisticated – intellectual- and emotional graphic book.
Author Alison Bechdel is simply awesome–there is just no other way to say it… BOTH of HER BOOKS are PRICELESS….
She says: “My mother composed me, as I now compose her”. This memoir is not ‘all’ about her mother… yet I loved how it felt so real how Alison was TRYING
Another absolutely spectacular entry into the graphic novel canon. But because its an attempt to emulate its brill predecessor, the glorious “Fun Home”, & has less anchors or poetic ideas that pop up with artful disposition throughout this, a very unmerry meta effort– it is a cranial deconstruction of prior psychoanalyses & (I suppose) less hearty than the ode to Bechdel’s father– it succeeds less than her true masterpiece. (To be fair: To top “Fun Home”? Simply Impossible!)
PS Fun Home