I have to say that this book exceeded my expectations on so many levels. I have to admit to being SHAMELESSLY addicted to the Netflix series - like, wI have to say that this book exceeded my expectations on so many levels. I have to admit to being SHAMELESSLY addicted to the Netflix series - like, weekend binges happen when each season is released. They just do, don't hate. I expected this book to be a dim shadow of the themes seen in the shoe, and Piper to be an unlikable upper-middle class, Ivy league educated, lesbian dabbling daddy's girl who had nothing but complaints about doing her "time".
What I got, however, was a group of characters that closely resembled those that I know and love from the show, and thoughtful discussions about racial injustice, the "special" treatment that Piper experienced in prison because of her appearance (pretty, skinny white girl with money in her early 30s), her race, her "roots" in a prestigious Boston suburb, and her expensive private attorneys. It seems that the ACTUAL Piper managed prison with more grace and finesse than her fictional Netflix counterpart, at least at first, and the stories of the connections and relationships she fostered while doing her time felt real, honest, and deep.
I was surprised by how many of the characters and situations from the show were at least loosely based on those in the memoir; I guess it just goes to show that truth really is stranger than fiction.
Piper was exactly the same age as I was when she began her relationship with her first female lover, and I can't help but consider what exactly I would have done if, instead of a control freak of a forest fire fighter, environmentalist and marketing guru, I had instead been drawn to someone like Piper's "Alex/Nora". I don't know how I would have reacted in my early 20s to such a situation, or if I would have been strong enough to resist the temptations that were Piper's undoing. It was also eerie that Piper was exactly my current age when she did her time...I'm glad to not have to dwell so deeply on the mistakes of my 20s in such a powerless, public, and humiliating forum as prison.
While Piper humanizes those women in prison, especially those charged with non-violent offenses, her experience is a chilling account of the absolute lack of control afforded to those (>2 million) imprisoned in the U.S., and made me grateful for my freedoms.
I should also add that the descriptions of the seasons in Connecticut while she was in Danbury really did bring me right back to my childhood, and sometimes it is nuts how much I miss the seasons in New England. Finally, I'm damn impressed that she went ahead and ran a half marathon on her own on a 1/4 mile track on the day that the New York marathon was scheduled - no fancy shoes, no expensive clothes, no endurance nutrition, and no cheering crowds; just her, a track surrounded by razor-wire fence, and her determination.
Update, April 2015: 8 months after original reading, I'm still thinking about this book. So I upgraded it from 2 stars to 4 stars, 'cause like it or nUpdate, April 2015: 8 months after original reading, I'm still thinking about this book. So I upgraded it from 2 stars to 4 stars, 'cause like it or not, that's a book that made an impression, and I'm still ruminating on it.
OK, lots and lots of thoughts after binging on this book for the last 2 days. I can't say I ENJOYED this book. It's kind of dense and refers more deeply to psychoanalysis, Virginia Woolf and Winnicott than I was able to relate to. It truly is almost painfully introspective at times, but for someone who is often an over-analyzer of just about everything, myself included, it was a good reflection for me.
Another reviewer said this: "Alison Bechdel is such a genius that I kind of just can't even deal with it, and this book is incredible in so many ways. I'm not sure I would've felt this way if I hadn't read Fun Home first, though; there's an analogy to be made between initially unappealing sex acts and a plotless, ultra-meta comic memoir about object relations theory that is an extremely detailed and specific examination of a woman's relationship with her mother. If this had been my first date with Alison Bechdel I might've jumped up, grabbed my clothes, and run out of her room. As it was, though, we'd had such an amazing time together and I was already sort of in love with her, so I was willing to follow this book to places I otherwise wouldn't have been ready to go."
I think maybe part of why I didn't LOVE this book is the teasers relating to her father about which I had no working knowledge. And the object relations theory was....harrowing. The 300+ pages of this book also seemed to say a lot of things, but NOT FEEL a lot of things - does that even make sense? Like, I found myself getting bored while she talked about these wrenching therapy sessions that didn't even come close to engaging my sensitive little soul in any sort of empathy. And the sections from the psychoanalysis literature was just perhaps over my head, but they seemed to last too long, be too pervasive, and add distance between Bechdel and her reader (when the whole point of writing a memoir is to create the possibility of connection between author and reader...at least IMHO.)
And you know what? It's just a little awkward how she continues to engage so closely (daily!?!?) with a mother who clearly takes more than she gives - masochistic seems almost appropriate here, especially when you consider the (OVER A DECADE) of therapy she endured to try to deal with this fraught relationship. And talk about talking to her mother ABOUT THIS BOOK, which is about her mother and their relationship...just a little icky feeling. Add to that the ?tiny bit inappropriate? relationship with her therapist "Jocelyn" (that made me cringe a lot - the "I know you love me" and "I think you're adorable" crap - that's not what she was paying you for!!).
There were some moments of real clarity for me as I was enjoying her casual drawing style, different (physical) perspectives, remembering some of the past hurts between she and her mom....I can tell you some of the weirdest, smallest exchanges I had with my mom, as early as age 3, that stick with me to this day and have shaped some of my internalized self-disgust, self-doubt, and anxiety about life in general and being lovable in particular. For this reason, the "you're old enough to not need goodnight kisses" at age 7 bit sort of hit home.
All in all, I probably need to give this one another read. And I need to read Fun Home to get more perspective. But I still may find myself wanting to skip over some of the overly involved psychobabble and self-involved therapeutic "breakthroughs" - I love a good therapy session myself, but can't quite stomach rehashing 10 years of some other, equally damaged queer lady's baggage....more