Loads of Learned Lumber

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Alison Bechdel, _Are You My Mother?_

WHAT CAN ONE do, in the end, but worship at her altar?

Which is the last thing she would seek or desire, I imagine.

I started Are You My Mother? with that mixed eagerness and reluctance one has when the author's last previous work was sublimely, superlatively good. Could this possibly be as good as Fun Home?

It represents a greater challenge, I think. Bechdel's relationship with her mother comprehends a greater span of time than did her relationship with her father, is ongoing rather than essentially completed, has a looser and less dramatic narrative arc, and is just more complicated. The episodes touching on Bechdel's own life are not from childhood and adolescence, which have a kind of natural vividness, but those of muddled and compromised adulthood, which are much harder to make compelling. (By the way, should I be surprised that Alison's girlfriends bear a strong resemblance to Mo's?) Everything about this project makes  it all but inevitable that it will not have the same kind of immediate impact that Fun Home does.

Yet it may represent an even greater success. What Bechdel does with Woolf, especially To the Lighthouse, here is even more persuasive than what she did with Joyce in Fun Home, and there is nothing in the earlier book to compare to her incorporation of the life and theories of Winnicott. The extraordinarily subtle handling of time and narrative architecture that distinguished Fun Home are every bit as strong here, but again the earlier book has no equivalent to the way Are You My Mother? integrates reflection on the processes of its own creation.

How many novels published this year will be this intelligent, this inventive, this brave, this nuanced, this real?  Damned few, my friend--damned few.  Maybe none.

No comments: