Janet Biehl's Reviews > Are You My Mother?

Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel
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Jul 03, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: graphic-novel
Read in June, 2012

"Are You My Mother" is less successful artistically than "Fun Home": it's less unified, with loose ends and false starts and abrupt transitions. I wish the editor had made a few more passes over the text, to make it cleaner. But after reading the book several times, I have to admit it's more absorbing. We see three main strands: Bechdel and her mother, in relationship past and present; young Bechdel in therapy/analysis; and the intellectual framework of D. W. Winnicott and Alice Miller, as represented by passages from their work. Bechdel's girlhood was like something out of Alice Miller's "Drama of the Gifted Child": she was the sensitive child of narcissistic mother whose own psychological needs had been unmet, leaving her incapable of giving her child the affirmation and love that she needs. The child's development in turn is warped as she develops a "false self" to accommodate the mother's needs. The book's organization tells us that Bechdel is here viewing her childhood--and trying to comprehend it--through the framework of Winnicott-Miller. We watch Bechdel perfors the intellectual task of comprehending what happened to her and finding the tools and resources, both within herself and with friends/therapists, to move forward as a creative person. In a cruel irony, the mother loves literature, was an English teacher, and dreamed of becoming a critic like Helen Vendler; but she failed to recognize that her daughter, whom she did not take seriously (by comparison with her sons, who were more important to her) and who languished and suffered under her non-care, turned out to be an artistic genius.
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