Are You My Mother?

Alison Bechdel. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (224p) ISBN 978-0-618-98250-9
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. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/05/2012
Release date: 05/01/2012
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