From the author of Fun Home, a graphic memoir of Bechdel's lifelong love affair with exercise, set against a chronicle of fitness fads in our times—from Jack LaLanne in the '60s ("Outlandish jumpsuit! Cantaloupe-sized guns!") to the existential oddness of present-day spin class.
... a far more sprawling project than Bechdel’s two previous and entirely virtuosic graphic memoirs ... The format is larger, too, and the reader feels more space on the page to breathe, which can’t be a random choice. (One imagines very little about the art Bechdel puts out into the world is random) ... Bechdel also departs from her usual monochrome to offer a whole generous P. T. Barnum palette. And between chapters she includes airy spreads painted with a flowing brush instead of her trademark boxed-in drawings made with a quivering pen. The changes work gloriously: We realized how trapped and anxious we’ve been, and what a fleeting miracle it is to experience exuberance, ease and a state of flow ... Bechdel doesn’t learn to juggle in these pages but she sure throws a lot of balls into the air. More balls, the reader imagines at times, than she will be able to catch. You have moments of wondering if she’s grown weary trying to write this book (her last one was 10 years ago) and thus loosened her trademark rigor. But you forgive her, because you feel she can’t help it — her brain is just wired this way. She also seems to know that it’s unlikely she’ll catch all the balls. And maybe that’s OK? ... Besides, the ride is fun and even insightful. I live in a house of literary fitness freaks, and even for people who are supposedly good with words and who exercise all the time, Bechdel’s book contained real revelations ... The book makes you see exercising as a kind of touchstone, the way going back to the same place every year can be. You love to see the landscape, but the true experience is internal: dealing with your own change ... Part of the pleasure of Bechdel’s books is the conversation she’s in with herself, all the layers: the drawings, the captions, the dialogue, the annotations of the world, the storyboards that move the narrative, the burbling monologue of her mind. This is a true delight of graphic literature, and nobody does it better. You feel as if you’re peering through a plexiglass panel right into Bechdel’s marvelous brain ... Bechdel’s genius is such that even a plain old writer suddenly wishes for the ability to annotate her own text.
Drawing is often seen as a cartoonist’s primary skill, but Bechdel can also really write. The various strings of her narrative are woven together in a way that feels fresh, clever and moving. There is also dry humour ... Her conclusion is inevitably trite, but Bechdel makes for such a likeable protagonist that readers will be pleased for her all the same. And while this book might not be the author’s most gripping work, it is probably her most beautiful, being the first to have been rendered in full colour ... Bechdel’s work is elegant and literary in a way that people don’t expect from graphic books. If you haven’t read anything by her yet, it’s a good time to catch up.
The book is divided by decade, each with its own enthusiasm, carrying us into the present day, as Bechdel and her partner, the painter Holly Rae Taylor ... Color? It’s the first sign that something new is afoot in a book full of familiar flourishes ... Bechdel is so associated with her material—her father’s possible suicide; her coming-out story, which she juxtaposed in Fun Home with her father’s furtive affairs with men—that her artistic and technical ambitions are often overlooked. Like Woolf, she is preoccupied with depicting the texture of thought and memory—their ambushes and heretical swerves ... The real problem of this new memoir is stranger: How does a writer so fond of depicting thought and argument, dreams and recursive therapy sessions depict what lies beyond the mind? ... Bechdel has said that she experienced the painstaking work of memory upon which her books are based as a kind of penance ... Penance but also preservation. I think of the novels of Yiyun Li that feel like collaborations with the dead, long contentious arguments to keep them alive, keep them close ... Bechdel has devoted a book to each of her parents and outlived them both. She works in color now. Her parents are small presences in this book, and shockingly benign. It is her own mortality she turns to, and all the questions that work and exercise have helped her evade.