Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (2012)


Audience: ,

Genre: ,

Series Type: , ,

Tone: ,

Art Style: ,

Queer Representation:

Other Tags: , ,


Content Warnings: ,


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 under the surface of Bechdel’s childhood…and who stopped touching or kissing her daughter good night, forever, when she was seven. Poignantly, hilariously, Bechdel embarks on a quest for answers concerning this mother-daughter gulf. It’s a richly layered search that leads readers from the fascinating life and work of the iconic twentieth-century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott to one explosively illuminating Dr. Seuss illustration, to Bechdel’s own (serially monogamous) adult love life. And finally, back to Mother – to a truce, fragile and in real time, that will move and astonish all adult children of gifted mothers.

From: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Notes on This Title

This is a sequel to Bechdel’s previous work, Fun Home.


2013 Lambda Literary Award Lesbian Memoir or Biography - Nominee


Starred review: “A psychologically complex, ambitious, illuminating successor to the author’s graphic-memoir masterpiece.

Though Bechdel had previously enjoyed a cult following with her long-standing comic strip, Dykes to Watch Out For, she raised the bar for graphic narrative with her book debut, Fun Home (2006). That memoir detailed her childhood in the family’s funeral home, her closeted and emotionally distant father’s bisexuality, his questionable death (an accident that was most likely a suicide) and the author’s own coming to terms with her sexuality. On the surface, this is the “mom book” following the previous “dad book.” Yet it goes more deeply into the author’s own psychology (her therapy, dreams, relationships) and faces a fresh set of challenges. For one thing, the author’s mother is not only still alive, but also had very mixed feelings about how much Bechdel had revealed about the family in the first volume. For another, the author’s relationship with her mother—who withheld verbal expressions of love and told her daughter she was too old to be tucked in and kissed goodnight when she turned 7—is every bit as complicated as the one she detailed with her father. Thus, Bechdel not only searches for keys to their relationship, but perhaps even for surrogate mothers, through therapy, girlfriends and the writings of Virginia Woolf, Adrienne Rich, Alice Miller and others. Yet the primary inspiration in this literary memoir is psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, whose life and work Bechdel explores along with her own. Incidentally, the narrative also encompasses the writing of and response to Fun Home, a work that changed the author’s life and elevated her career to a whole new level.  She writes that she agonized over the creation of this follow-up for four years. It is a book she had to write, though she struggled mightily to figure out how to write it.

Subtitled “A Comic Drama,” the narrative provides even fewer laughs than its predecessor but deeper introspection.” (Source: Kirkus)

Starred review: “Using the twin lenses of literature and psychoanalysis to peer into both past and present, Bechdel examines her own and her mother’s lives, interwoven like M.C. Escher’s infinite staircase. Simultaneously, she incorporates a metanarrative about herself documenting this history to produce a complex, almost dizzying tour de force of storytelling. In the same way the “fun” in Fun Home, her award-winning memoir about her father, was intended ironically, the term “comic drama” is similarly multivalent. Certainly, the second work more than matches the first for its blend of drama, poignancy, humor, and an intellectual bricolage that folds in Dr. Seuss, psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, Virginia Woolf, Bechdel’s love life and childhood journals, and her talented mother’s thwarted theater career. And as with Fun Home, her realistic black-white-gray inks are accented with color: here, deep red tones. VERDICT A rousing and even more intellectually challenging read than her previous work, Bechdel’s new masterpiece toggles between multiple zones of time and the psyche, culminating in a complicated and deeply moving happy ending. Highly recommended for those drawn to Fun Home, literary comics, memoirs, and mother-daughter psychologies.” (Source: Library Journal. 137.9 (May 15, 2012))

Starred review: “There was a danger inherent in the bestselling microscopically examined autobiography of Bechdel’s Fun Home, namely that further work from this highly impressive artist could disappear so far down the rabbit hole of her own mind that readers might never find their way back out. Her first book since that masterful 2006 chronicle of her closeted father’s suicide narrowly avoids that fate, but is all the stronger for risking it. This Jungian “comic drama” finds Bechdel investigating the quiet combat of another relationship: that of her distant, critical mother and her own tangled, self-defeating psyche. Bechdel’s art has the same tightly observed aura of her earlier work, but with a deepening and loosening of style. The story, which sketches more of the author’s professional and personal life outside of her family, is spiderwebbed with anxiety and self-consciousness (“I was plagued… with a tendency to edit my thoughts before they even took shape”). There’s a doubling-back quality, mixed with therapeutic interludes that avoid self-indulgence and are studded with references to creative mentors like Virginia Woolf (another obsessive who yet took daring creative leaps), analyst Donald Winnicott, and Alice Miller. Though perhaps not quite as perfectly composed as Fun Home, this is a fiercely honest work about the field of combat that is family.” (Source: Publishers Weekly)


The Paris Review: “Family Matters: Alison Bechdel on ‘Are You My Mother?’

Leave a Comment