The first time I read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel I was blown away. It was like nothing I had ever read. So when I heard she had a new book out, this time about her mother, I rushed to buy it right away…and then added it to the stack of books I was desperate to read. The stack has gotten large enough that if it were a real stack it would be in danger of falling over and killing my pets.
Reading Are You My Mother? though, it was apparent right away that it was very different than Fun Home. And as much as I wanted to enjoy it, I didn’t. There really isn’t another way to put it.
The book lacks the focus that Bechdel’s first graphic memoir had, the level of reflection and insight that made it shine. Whereas in Fun Home, Bechdel’s eye for patterns, her ability to link seemingly disjointed things, made the book a tour de force, in Are You My Mother? it gives the book an almost scattered feeling. The focus is too broad, and though it always returns to Bechdel’s mother, it does not feel as though everything is working in service of that subject matter. It feels as though Bechdel’s mother is simply there.
It’s understandable, though, and not particularly surprising really, that this book isn’t as confessional and revealing as Fun Home. As Bechdel herself points out, her mother is still alive. She still has a relationship with her that she would most likely like to maintain or improve. Publishing something like Fun Home would probably not advance that goal at all. In fact, the book reveals, publishing Fun Home did not advance that goal.
Bechdel is a brilliant graphic writer, and parts of this memoir were wonderful. But the over emphasis on psychoanalysis, the arcs that felt more like tangents than new depths, the way it never quite all tied together, it all left me feeling disappointed.
I wanted to read Fun Home I realized, to experience it again for the first time. But that’s not possible, and fortunately, a book like Fun Home always offers up something new every time you read it anyway.