Are You My Mother?

I am constitutionally incapable of walking into a library without at least paging through something. And so while I was at one of my home libraries in August to renew my card, I took a stroll around the main floor to see if anything caught my eye. My circuit ended in the graphic novel section, where Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? was one of the featured books.

I knew Bechdel by reputation (who among us has not heard of “the Bechdel test” by now?) but not yet by works, even if I had heard of Fun Home and “Dykes to Watch Out For.” A memoir about parents? Well heck, very on brand to read while visiting one’s parents!

Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are all unique in their unhappiness. That’s the mood reading people’s reflections on their own parents. How are mine like theirs? How are mine different? Do we have any of the same difficulties in our relationships with them? Can I learn anything from how this person managed it (or didn’t)? Plus a heaping helping of: thank God my parents are the way they are.

Not that Are You My Mother? is didactic, or instructional. There are a lot of asides about Donald Winnicott and child psychology and Freud, but only because they were Bechdel’s own interests at the time of writing. And lots of Virginia Woolf and To The Lighthouse, as well. I guess one day I should make a real honest effort with that book, but today is not that day.

My dad is not Bechdel’s dad; my mom is not Bechdel’s mom. My relationships with them have different wrinkles and potholes than Bechdel has with hers, though sometimes they overlap or resonate in a kind of harmony. Never enough that the suggestions from her therapists feel like they can apply to me, but enough for me to do the slow nod of recognition.

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katherine

Stockholm-based translator and copyeditor of American extraction.

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