REVIEW: “Essential Dykes to Watch Out For” by Alison Bechdel
Houghton Mifflin, 2008
CHALLENGE(S): GLBT Challenge (mini)
Finished 28 Mar 2010
I decided to give this a review all on its own rather than amongst others, in part because I haven’t read any more yet, but mostly because it is such a stand-out book that it deserves a post dedicated solely to how great it is.
I really enjoyed reading this collection, for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sense of humour. Bechdel has a marvelous eye for the satirical and she’s not afraid to make fun of herself as well as others. Always a plus, in my opinion! She also has a keen eye for political detail, so that interwoven throughout the more personal stories of the protagonists there is a wider picture of both the gay rights movement and the country as a whole. It was very much like a history of the past 15 years, albeit a history told through unconventional eyes and means, and one which never sought to preach at the reader (which is more than many authors can say for their historical works).
Secondly, I absolutely loved the characters. They were so alive, so vibrant, I almost felt like they must be real people running around somewhere. My favourite was Lo(u)is, whose exercises in “testing the elasticity of gender” (as a friend of mine might say) were only a sideline to the actual plot but which managed to be both funny and poignant and (in my opinion) frequently stole the show. Not to mention Lo(u)is herself, who was just plain awesome. But there is truly a grand cast, to be honest, and they’re all a delight to read about as they develop and grow.
There were a few issues I had, largely towards the latter part of the strip. I know a few were removed for length, and that they were chosen carefully so as not to interrupt the story flow, but there were a few places where I was taken by surprise by the direction the narrative took, and I felt the lack of connection most keenly. I’m not sure whether that was because there were actually strips missing or because of the narrative itself, but either way it was a bit disappointing. I also began to get the sense that the author was not altogether happy with her life towards the end of the strip’s life – the storylines become more jaded, and the humour loses its edge and slides towards bitterness. Much as I would have liked to read more about her wonderful characters, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing that Bechdel put the strip on hiatus when she did.
Overall, highly recommended and a really great read. One minor warning: Bechdel doesn’t pull her punches, and her staunch honesty includes depictions of sex scenes and occasional nudity. Just in case you were thinking of reading the book at work!