In this graphic memoir, Bechdel delves deeply into the mystery of her father’s life. A closeted bisexual, obsessed with the historic restoration of the family mansion, Bechdel’s father was often icily distant. The relationship between father and daughter was further complicated by their shared questioning of the rigid gender roles assigned them. Bechdel re-examines key moments from her childhood in the light of her own coming out, and her father’s death – likely a suicide – shortly afterwards.
After being sadly ignorant about graphic novels for far too long, I have been diving into the genre with great gusto this year. My favorite iteration is the graphic memoir, a fast-growing sub-genre that showcases a phenomenal range of storytellers and artistic talent. The combination of story and art in the graphic memoir allows for an insight into the author’s history that is extraordinarily engaging, fast-paced, and fascinating. I recently devoured two graphic memoirs by Alison Bechdel – Fun Home and Are You My Mother? – and they are among my top-rated reads of the year.
Bechdel had an emotionally difficult childhood and she draws liberally on this source material in these two autobiographical texts, the first of which focuses on her relationship with her father, and the second, with her mother. The subject matter is at times traumatic, undoubtedly, but Bechdel’s storytelling style is compelling and eminently readable. These two books combined offer an extremely detailed and intriguing glimpse into the life of Alison Bechdel, both past and present. While her relationship with both of her parents was frequently fraught, they both instilled in her a love of art, as well as an ethic that prioritized creative expression above all else. And as a newly avid reader of her work, I am very grateful for that.
In this second graphic memoir, Bechdel turns her spotlight on her relationship with her mother, a creatively brilliant woman living in a frustrated marriage. When the young Bechdel was just seven years old, her mother told her she was now too old to receive goodnight kisses. The gulf between mother and daughter only continued to grow, however Bechdel is not unsympathetic towards her mother, with this memoir offering fleeting glimpses of a peace – or at least a truce – between the two women.