Alison Bechdel | Interview
The Fun Home author talks Are You My Mother?
Alison Bechdel sounds nervous. She’s been through this before: The comics artist’s memoir, Fun Home—about her closeted father’s suicide that came shortly after she came out—was nominated for a National Book Award. But she says she feels less prepared to talk about her new book, Are You My Mother? (Houghton Mifflin, $22), a memoir about her mother. In truth, the book is less about her mother than it is about the relationship between the two, characterized by its apparent intimacy (they talk every day) but marked detachment. The book also explores Bechdel’s growing interest in psychoanalysis, and recounts her long history in therapy. We spoke on the phone with the visiting teacher at the University of Chicago about memoir, mothers and confession.
How’s teaching at U. of C. going?
It’s been great. It’s…intense.
Yeah, they don’t mess around down there.
They totally do not mess around.
So how are you feeling now that the book is getting out there?
I’ve been having a weirdly hard time with it. I feel very vulnerable and anxious, more than I did with Fun Home and any other book.
Why’s that? Does this one feel more personal?
The really big thing is that my mother is going to read it. My father was dead when I wrote Fun Home, so that really was a walk in the park in comparison.
But I felt like this book wasn’t about your mother in the same way Fun Home was about your dad. It’s more about your relationship.
Well, I was able to encapsulate my father’s story, because he was dead. But I’m talking with my mother and engaging with her over the course of the book. And the relationship we have with our mothers is just fundamentally more complicated than with our fathers. We are part of our mothers.
I was really surprised that in the book, there’s a part where you’re actually showing her pages from it as you’re going along.
I just felt like I had to. I wanted to make sure she was okay with it as I went along. She didn’t say it directly to me, but to her partner Bob, that she would never tell me not to write it, because she knew I would do it anyway. And I’m not sure if that’s true, I’m not sure if I would have had the guts to go through with it.
Do you feel like you’re putting yourself out there more here?
Yes, it’s much more self-revealing than Fun Home. I don’t know quite what I was thinking. I do feel anxious about it, and I’m sorry, I don’t know what to say about that. I haven’t figured it out. Telling these really intricate things about myself is my attempt to get free of myself, in a way that will help me connect to other people in a way that’s always been difficult for me.
Do you think that writing this book has helped your relationship with your mother?
I feel like I won’t really know that until later. Part of a process of a book, it’s not just writing a book, it’s what happens when it comes out. I feel like I’m in the middle of it still. I definitely feel like it made me pay more attention to her than I would have, which has to be a good thing.
Bechdel discusses Are You My Mother? Wednesday 16 at Women and Children First.