Sunday, September 19

The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel Review: No Pain, All Gains | Comics and Graphic Novels

IIn her silent and amazing new book, Alison Bechdel sets out to discover why she has spent so many hours of her life – “quite possibly as many as recommended” – exercising. At first glance, this sounds straightforward. She has been crazy about muscles since she was a child and she first saw Charles Atlas; Running used to be the best way I knew how to handle stress; When I was younger, I was as susceptible to fashions as I was to sportswear brands. But while The secret of superhuman strength He is very interested in karate and spinning classes, Nordic skiing and road cycling, and he manages to be cunningly funny with all of them, his real theme is self-improvement in the broadest sense of the word. If this sounds unpleasant, please, not another book on self-care, all I can tell you is that your thoughts on mortality, wonder, and transcendence will do you much more good, at this point in the pandemic, than the next. . yoga class.

How the hell does he do it? The witty conciseness, the warmth of the sentiment, the fact that the reader never tires of his company (this is his third memoir, after all). In this book, the now 60-year-old Bechdel continues deep personal excavations of Fun home and its sequel Are you my mother? moving through your life a decade at a time as you stare in bewilderment at your tendency to use, or try to use, your regimens like a balm (in your 20s, for example, when you were dealing with the emotional aftermath of your suicide of the father, had a predilection for “feminist martial arts”). But the exercise is like a computer game: how many levels do you have again? With age, even the strongest body weakens; menopause causes its own havoc; a father dies and suddenly no one comes between you and the grave. Little by little, he realizes that there is more to escaping the anxious moment, much less the abyss, than spending an hour in a rowing machine.

The secret of superhuman strength
Illustration: Alison Bechdel

In search of what this “more” might imply, he toured various writers and thinkers: Wordsworth and Coleridge; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Margaret Fuller; Jack Kerouac and Adrienne Rich – switching between their lives and ideas and her own (she takes them seriously, but gently lampoons herself). In the space at my disposal here, I cannot hope to grasp all that is contained in this extraordinarily generous and spacious book, nor the dexterity with which she loosely links its themes. Suffice it to say that while its themes (nature, love, work, sexuality) are huge, The secret of superhuman strength never feels heavy. If it were a bar, you could lift it with one hand.

His drawings are always extremely accurate and extremely agile. This time, however, they have been colored in by her partner, Holly Rae Taylor, something that not only looks lovely on the page, given all the mountains and forests her narrative involves (the couple live in remote Vermont), but it also allows you to close each chapter with a monochrome sketch: shades of gray that are used to suggest, not omen or diminution, but peace and acceptance. It transcends the idea that life needs transcendence, Bechdel tells us, and the overgrown terrain ahead seems much more hospitable.

The secret of superhuman strength by Alison Bechdel is published by Allen Lane (£ 16.99). To order a copy, go to Shipping charges may apply

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