Friday, July 13, 2012

"The Essential 'Dykes to Watch Out For,'" by Alison Bechdel

What a feast “The Essential ‘Dykes to Watch Out For’” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2008) is! It is a generous selection from over 20 years of Alison Bechdel’s comic strip (and from several earlier collections) portraying the lives of a group of lesbian friends and lovers, parents and children, neighbors and coworkers, and their friends and families. The book is physically large, to accommodate the 10-12 panel comics, each filling a page, which are crammed with drawings and dialogue, so that it is easy to read them and to enjoy all the wonderful details in each. The facial expressions alone are priceless. The book is full of life, of observations, of politics, of social history, of romance, of flirting, of sex, of commitment, of breakups, of gossip, of issues about money and housing and education, and best of all, of friendships and relationships as they shift and grow and change and sometimes end. Getting lost in the book is like getting blissfully lost in a sprawling Victorian novel. Why is Mo (who seems to be the author's alter ego) so fixated on the state of the nation and of politics? What is it like to be estranged from one’s parents, or to take care of them as they age? What are the lives of the pioneer lesbians who started raising children like? Why does Sparrow take up with Stuart, a man? Do Clarice and Toni get tired of being the married couple role model? How about the child who is born a boy but knows she is a girl? Somehow Bechdel manages to seamlessly weave together the social history of the times with the stories of the individual characters and their families, communities, and relationships. This book and its characters are variously funny, moving, sympathetic, maddening, unpredictable, charming, annoying, informational, illuminating, and inspiring. And whatever the reader’s own sexual identity is, she or he will identify with some of the characters, and want others of them for friends.

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