Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel is a graphic memoir with elements of meta-writing in which the author brilliantly layers in passages from psychiatric texts, letters between her parents from their courtship, and allusions to the past that she seamlessly weaves into a single personal meaning. Ultimately, this memoir serves as a follow-up to her previous graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic in which she explored her relationship with her father.
This memoir, as the title suggests, focuses more on her relationship with her mother; but it also explores her relationships with her therapists and her lovers. It doesn’t take a Freudian to recognize that she is seeking in her other relationships the things she never received from her mother. In coming to terms with the voids in her primary relationships, Bechdel is delicately candid. Never so self-protective that she becomes emotionally careful, she is always self-aware and conscious of how her choices in her writing may affect her loved ones. In this she shows both compassion for her own honesty and an empathy for those who my read her truth through a filter of their own understanding.
I wasn’t sure this memoir would stand up well because I adored her previous memoir so very much. The way she used literary allusions to inform and enhance her story, how she plays with the linear through the use of flashback, and layers her own truth with her father’s--all of these elements added up to a dazzling piece of literature. That she created a memoir that was evocative and literary was brilliant enough; but that she did all of this in a graphic memoir is all the more remarkable. Needless to say, I couldn’t help but wonder if she could do it again.
Bechdel's relationship with her mother is complicated; also, it is unquestionably full of love. She is able to recognize what was missing even as she tries to understand why her mother was unable to meet her needs as a child. It is her willingness to be honest without needing to blame that makes her memoir a pleasure to read. When she quotes from other sources, or interjects references to Virginia Woolf, Donald Winnicott or even Dr Seuss, it all has a reason to be there. Not a single panel is wasted and all of them are beautifully drawn.
Bechdel is brilliant. She blows me away every time. I love this book and hope that she will find more stories to tell. I’d read anything she publishes.