It wasn't long ago I was praising Alison Bechdel and congratulating her on being named a Guggenheim Fellow. I recently got to speak with her about her new book, "Are You My Mother?" Her first book, "Fun Home," focused on her father while this one tackles her mother, and the result is a very different book. It's different in ways that are fascinating. In a strange way, I feel as if "Are You My Mother?" is a more accomplished book, and it's a much more challenging one as well.
Memoir is an odd genre. Ignoring all the celebrity stories and tabloid nonsense, the memoirs that tend to attract attention, often do because of their strangeness. Oddball characters, unusual circumstances, strange family environments. "Are You My Mother?" is a story that is more ordinary, the complicated relationship of a mother and daughter, the tension of different ideas and lifestyles, generations and generational possibilities.
I told Alison when we spoke that I really loved the book and then hesitated, because perhaps a better, more accurate description would be to say that I was fairly consumed by the book; reading it three times in as many days. I know that the book isn't for everyone, but for those who will plunge into the book, there are many rewards. I spoke with Alison about the class she's co-teaching this semester at the University of Chicago, Winnicott, Helen Vendler, Terry Tempest Williams and more.