i’ve always had a fondness for alison bechdel, at least in terms of admiring her guts. in the way-back (the dark ages, before anybody in public life would even consider admitting, in his wildest hallucinatory dream, that he was for gay marriage) i hung out on the edges of the Lavender Hill crowd. and bechdel’s work was just like them–incestuous, creative, bickery, funny. so i was pretty much prepared to be very fond of this book.
so it bums me that i’m not.
somehow this book is bloodless. i suspect it proved impossible for bechdel to write directly about her still-living mother (no diss there). it’s difficult turf even for people whose mothers have gone on to the next life. and bechdel clearly has a pretty tight connection to her moms even now.
so, bloodless. how can a book be bloodless when the memoirist reveals directly conversations with therapists? you’d think, wow, there must be some stuff there.
but the book is littered with therapists living and dead, and they don’t contribute much, except as substitutes for the mother bechdel is supposed to be writing about.
here’s an example, toward the end of the book. bechdel is refused a hug from a therapist:
“There was nothing I wanted more in that moment than the containing pressure, however brief, of someone outside myself. Now there was nothing between me… and nothing.”
and i thought, yes! finally getting somewhere.
but then bechdel rambles off onto psychoanalytic theory, which she has done repeatedly throughout the book.
didion’s book Blue Nights does some of this avoidance, but in didion’s book you can feel her grinding grief at the loss of her daughter in the places she’s unable to approach. in bechdel’s book, you just get more psychoanalytic theory.
ultimately i don’t care about bechdel’s mother at all; i was interested in bechdel as a daughter, and in her relationship with her mother. i didn’t get it.
and unfortunately the other thing lacking is the art. how many drawings of people in office chairs or on therapist’s couches do we need? fairly expressionless people, too. the paintings on the endpapers are maybe the best part of the book (they are really interesting, check ’em out, i’m not being sarcastic).