Guest book pick: “Are You My Mother”

Social media host Stephanie Curtis usually gives her book pick alongside Kerri on Tuesdays, but she is out of town. MPR News’ Euan Kerr sat in for her today and recommended “Are You My Mother” by Alison Bechdel. Here’s what he had to say about it:

I’ve been a fan of Alison Bechdel’s work from the days long ago when I first stumbled across her strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.” I was even lucky enough to interview her years ago when she lived in Minneapolis. She has a wonderful dry sense of humor, and an elegant drawing style.

She took this to a whole new level with her 2006 graphic memoir “Fun Home” which explored her difficult relationship with her father. He was a terse brooding man who both taught high school English literature and ran a small town funeral home (which the Bechdel family dubbed ‘the fun home.’) The book revolves around the time when in the matter of a few weeks Bechdel came out to her parents, her mother announced she was divorcing her husband because of his string of affairs with other men and then her father’s death in a traffic accident which Bechdel believes was really suicide.

The book gathered great critical praise. However as Bechdel reveals in “Are You My Mother,” it came at great personal cost. The new book, a sequel of sorts, is about her relationship with her emotionally distant mother. Desperate to work through the pain of her situation Bechdel delves into psychoanalysis while making great use of family letters, photographs, and the literature that was important to both her and her parents.

Bechdel weaves the story through her pictures in startling ways. She often illustrates a passage about a psychoanalytic theory with a series of images from her personal life. She actually draws many of those family letters and passages from books, and makes use of plan and maps in her work.

Both books are tough reads because of the subject matter. This is the revealing story of someone in a great deal of mental pain. However Bechdel tells it in a compelling way which underscores both her humanity, and her drive to come to terms with her anguish.

–Euan Kerr, MPR News

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