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Comic book psychotherapy
on 19 January 2013
I read this before Fun Home and have an inconsistent relationship with this book because it was what drew me into reading both Fun Home and almost the entire series of Alison Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For. Its graphic presentation is fascinating. I sank into it when ill in bed. But it is obsessed with psychoanalysis and its language of parenting and child development, and self-obsessed.
This is her mother's story - complementing her father's story in Fun Home. And maybe her mother is obsessed with herself too. But we hear enough of her mother to realise that maybe she was being `good enough' coping with the emotional dessication of living with her father, managing three children, attempting to engage her own adult daughter at a full-on intellectual level. Her attempt to establish a basic distance from her daughter as a child, at a time when she herself was probably being neglected, is treated as a central abandonment - her mother stopping kissing her when she was seven. But maybe this is more a story of how spending a long time in therapy can make you very self-obsessed and less concerned with hearing the voice of the other.
We hear that it is difficult for her to impress her mother, but we do not hear enough that her mother may have had a point of view which from her perspective was valid. We do hear her finally accepting that her mother is incapable of giving her the kind of validation that she might want. Maybe that's life - and you cannot do everything to please your mother. I think her mother may have coped pretty well with having a book drawn about her - "At last, I have destroyed my mother, and she has survived my destruction."
In the end - as you look at the resurrection of detailed memories about how her mother engaged with Alison, and with her childhood obsessive compulsive diarising for instance, or her fantasies about being a crippled child - you wonder whose perspective is valid. And Bechdel's concluding tones allow you to make that judgement: "There was a certain thing I did not get from my mother - There is a lack, a gap, a void - But in its place, she has given me something else - Something, I would argue that is far more valuable - She has given me the way out."