Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama
Are You My Mother?:
A Comic Drama
by Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$22.00 List Price
The graphic “novel” may be the ideal form for memoir. On the one hand, it offers immediacy, a fusing of reading time and narrative time: We can experience an epiphany at the same moment as the character in the frame, who may break suddenly into a wide-eyed look of surprise. On the other hand, it makes room for a polyphony of time and space and story: The text on a page may be paired with drawings of something else entirely, creating a visual metaphor or, in more discordant cases, mirroring the way the mind can think and feel multiple things simultaneously. And elaborate two-page spreads can foster a suspended momentum, an eddying of time. Even a not particularly dramatic journey of self-discovery can become, in a well-constructed comic, a richly enveloping world.
Comic artist Alison Bechdel achieves this transformation in Are You My Mother?, the follow-up to her addictive and nearly flawless 2007 memoir, Fun Home. That book was about her father, and this one is about her mother. Yet the two projects are far from parallel. Her father’s life had the ready-made arc of a story—from his frequent rages during Alison’s childhood, through his secret affairs with young men, and ending with his apparent suicide. Even though Fun Home was organized by theme rather than chronology, and circled back on itself repeatedly, the book felt somehow linear. As in Moby-Dick, the story’s vector was enormous enough to accommodate a great deal of digressing and spiraling without the central story ever being lost.
Are You My Mother?’s central story follows Bechdel—or let’s say Alison, the
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