Double Review | Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic / Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel is an iconic cartoonist well-known for her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For.  Her two graphic memoirs apply a psychoanalytical lens to her stranger-than-fiction childhood to paint an intricate portrait of her parents.  Considering how the characters and themes link the two narratives, they are better when read together!  These memoirs will fascinate lovers of literature with references to great writers, and engross readers who enjoy beautifully structured family biographies.  Her perceptiveness left me in awe.

Bechdel’s art is always worth taking the time to appreciate.  She uses only one colour (greyish green in Fun Home and red in Are You My Mother?) as a wash over her greyscale illustrations.  I was fixated admiring the detail in every frame, and how text and art support each other to articulate meaning more powerfully than either could alone.

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Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home Review Paige's PagesTITLE: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
AUTHOR
: Alison Bechdel
PUBLISHER
: Houghton Mifflin
RELEASE DATE
: June 8, 2006
GENRE
: Nonfiction, Graphic Memoir
PAGE COUNT
: 232


Alison Bechdel remembers her childhood under the reign of her father, Bruce.  She mines her memories of him obsessing over their gothic revival home in Pennsylvania, and recruiting his children’s help at his funeral business (the “fun home”).  Following Bruce’s sudden death, Alison reflects on her coming of age as a lesbian after discovering her father was a closeted gay.

Alison masters the narrative freedom of the memoir genre to puzzle together her portrait of her father.  I love how she connects seemingly meaningless moments in the past and present, exploring the layers and parallels between her and her father.  She refers to a person’s life revolving around an epicentre with every event connected, such as how her father grew up, worked, and died within a radius of a few miles.  She sustains the logical narrative flow while nailing her ambitious scope, inspiring us to look at our own stories with fresh eyes. 

Although Fun Home is pitched as Bruce Bechdel’s story, it is equally Alison’s.  She can’t talk about her parents without candidly revealing her most formative experiences.  I couldn’t tear my eyes away as she showed how her parents’ emotional unavailability impacted her coming of age—a theme she continues to develop in Are You My Mother? from the vantage point that comes with age.

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Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama

Are You My Mother? Review Paige's PagesTITLE: Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama
AUTHOR
: Alison Bechdel
PUBLISHER
: Houghton Mifflin
RELEASE DATE
: May 1, 2012
GENRE
: Nonfiction, Graphic Memoir
PAGE COUNT
: 290


Are You My Mother? is Alison’s study of her relationship with her mother.  Flowing intuitively between past and present in the style of Fun Home, Alison draws from the psychoanalytical theories of Donald Winnicott to scrutinise the mother/daughter relationship.  I enjoyed how a good chunk of the story is set during the years Alison worked on Fun Home—offering a glimpse into the dead ends and therapy involved in bringing that book to life, and how she and her mother bonded over the retelling of Alison’s childhood.

Over the course of decades of therapy, Alison comes to term with how her upbringing impacted her, especially regarding her self-loathing and perfectionism.  Her disciplined objectivity and honesty make Are You My Mother? a meaningful and engaging study of family and self—never navel-gazing.  Alison is easy to connect with and makes herself extremely vulnerable in the process of unwinding the threads of her family’s story.

Despite countless links between the two memoirsI personally connected more to Are You My Mother?  I enjoyed the intergenerational female relationship at the core of this book, discovering Alison’s mother’s backstory and seeing how much this remarkable woman changed due to her marriage to Bruce Bechdel.  I love how Alison shows her imperfections and those of the people closest to her in a way that is both personal and universal, coldly distant and affectionate.  

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