Last summer, I read and thoroughly enjoyed the graphic novel + memoir Fun Home by Alison Bechdel. The novel depicts the author’s relationship with her father and how she came to understand her sexuality and identity. While I really liked the book, I lamented that the author barely detailed her relationship with her mother. I was thrilled to learn that Bechdel had written and illustrated another book, Are You My Mother?, as a somewhat-sequel to Fun Home. It’s a “somewhat-sequel” in that it’s definitely a companion to Fun Home and alludes to the other book, but doesn’t continue the story chronologically.
I absolutely LOVED Are You My Mother? and found it to be superior to Fun Home. That said, I do think you need to read Fun Home first in order to get the most out of Are You My Mother? This graphic novel grapples with Bechdel’s distant, yet extremely close relationship with her mother (who recently passed in 2013) — her mother kept her at a distance as a child, but called her extremely frequently as an adult, discussing trivial things instead of delving into the intimate details of their relationship, as is common for a lot of people with somewhat strained parental relationships.
The distance and childhood detachment was likely a product of the societal and psychological norms of childrearing which existed in the 1960s/1970s, something that Bechdel spends a lot of time exploring within the novel. As someone who has spent a lot of time pondering my own relationship with my mother since she died when I was a child, I ultimately spent a lot of the time considering the psychological theories (drawn mostly from psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott‘s beliefs) that Bechdel shared in relation to my own experiences with my mother. I found the book extremely enlightening and I enjoyed the reflective mood that it launched me into. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to spend time analyzing your own maternal relationship, I don’t recommend this book to you, but if that idea piques your interest in any way, you won’t regret delving into the graphic novel.
Because of my #FindABook project, I’ve gotten into the habit of giving away all of the books that I physically own after I finish them in order to eliminate clutter in my apartment. Since living in New York for the last 1.5 years, I’ve only wanted to hang on to two books and Are You My Mother? is one of the books that will stay in my lifelong collection and that is the strongest endorsement that I can give to a book.
While I was still on a reading high from finishing this book, my neighbor and podcasting partner (shameless plug for my podcast, Friday Night Lives, about the TV show Friday Night Lights) and I got tickets to see Fun Home, the broadway musical, on stage for later this week! I cannot wait to see the first novel in action. Bechdel’s work is a true treasure and I’m sad I didn’t bring it into my life sooner! Maybe I’ll even write a review about the musical…
Publication Date: 1 May 2012 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Format: Paperback.