A Great Graphic Novel
by Mallary Saltzman
Fortunately for us Alison Bechdel has had a life worth telling, and in her latest graphic novel, Are you My Mother?, she retells it with a vengeance. Are You My Mother? is Bechdel’s sequel to Fun Home, a graphic novel that focuses on life with her father, who was a high school English teacher, a funeral home director, husband, and a closeted gay man. Bechdel wrote Fun Home after her Father’s death and in it she explores her family relationships in a very frank and funny way.
Are You My Mother? continues her story and is in part about her relationship with her mother, who is very much alive and not at all happy with her daughter writing this book (“I just don’t know why everyone has to write about themselves,” she tells the author). But Bechdel also explores her relationships with other women — mainly her partners and her therapists, who have played maternal roles throughout her life. These explorations are both fascinating and fun, made more so by her use of observations of the 20th century psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott, whom the author has studied.
I enjoyed this story greatly. Though I thought Fun Home was better written, I think the illustrations in Are You My Mother are more evocative and tell her story just as well as her words.
If you like Are You My Mother, and graphic novels in general, I also recommend Fun Home, and Prinz award-winning American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang.