Spiegelman deftly weaves in her own coming of age — watching the Twin Towers fall as a high school freshman in New York City, her explorations of her own sexuality — so that the two stories both touch and veer from one another ... Spiegelman approaches her subjects with sensitivity, wisdom, generosity, and honesty, with an acute sense of the responsibilities and risks involved with sharing other people’s stories. There are moments that sound a little like the revelations that come from the therapist’s couch, but more than anything, the book shows us, in intimate detail, what a strange thing it is, to have a mother, how painful, how powerful.
With this fiercely female chain of stories, Spiegelman has decided to plunge right into the most intimate and radioactive psychic material most women have on hand ... Spiegelman is masterful at loading up her language with more meaning than is at first apparent. Often that fantastical tendency—that rush to interpret—imbues her words with a kind of elliptical peril ... On the subject of memory, Spiegelman is remarkable—mature, wise, and richly expressive.
Spiegelman is insightful about the malleability and power of memory and eloquent about the hidden currents in her family's mythology. But I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This suffers from aggressive, artificial poignancy: Laden ashtrays and meaningful silences and figures forever disappearing portentously into the night. Just a little bit of humor or self-awareness would dispel the lingering and sticky too-muchness of these moments, the heaviness of lyricism for its own sake.
Her insights are sharp, and her engaging intelligence is a welcome guide, but as the memoir proceeds, her distinctive voice grows fainter, drowned out by the clamor of her forebears ... No resolutions are reached, but when the memoir nears conclusion, transitions soften and Spiegelman’s account takes on an inchoate, oceanic quality ... It’s a beautiful ending, but it comes at a cost: The narrator we knew seems to have disappeared, dissolved in the gene pool.
But differing accounts of shared history are meat and drink to memoirists, and surely so universal as to be unremarkable. There has to be something else going on for us to want to read further. So what is Spiegelman’s point? In an extremely mazy, meandering narrative, in which reaches into the past often seem tenuous, the answer is surely not in establishing the literal truth. Rather, her subject appears to be the impossibility of feeling anger towards one’s mother, and the extent to which to do so would require a belief in potential change. Is it better, though, to accept that love and anger can co-exist; and that, particularly in mother-daughter relationships, such dynamics and dramas are frequently played out in the body, in attitudes towards lovers, food, appearance? Nadja cannot answer these questions definitively – who could? – but she can pose them arrestingly and illuminatingly.
Paradoxically, the greatest success of this poetic, searing memoir lies in its universality ... Spiegelman’s memoir is beautiful, not perfect. In a book populated by so many unreliable narrators, the reader longs for the author to rise above the fray, pointing the reader toward the truth — if such a thing exists — when her progenitors’ memories clash. That said, I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This is a compelling first effort.
Like her mother, Spiegelman seems to desire a defining problem to give meaning to the world and herself ... The unfolding of the intertwined stories can be hard to follow, yet the confusing sequences seem intended to portray the author’s own ambivalence and uncertainty about what to believe from the variable accounts of the volatile relationship between her mother and grandmother. Like the author, I kept waiting for it all to add up to something. But the buildup leads to a disappointing lack of closure, and the suspense withers away. The glimpses into Spiegelman’s own life, while rich in detail, are as emotionally veiled as those relayed by her mother and grandmother ... Spiegelman’s memoir depicts two women who are at once victims and incredibly strong. I only wish she had waited to write this book until she was older. She might have perceived her family and their secrets differently, looking back from the distance they have already traversed.