The secret of superhuman strength

HASlison Bechdel is worth much more than the test that bears his name. We also owe him two great autobiographical stories: Fun Home and Are you my mom? which explore his complicated relationship with his parents. With The secret of superhuman strengthshe adds a third component to these “graphics memoirs“.

But what is this famous superhuman force? It is initially a promise in the detour of an insert in a magazine. Seduced by the idea, the ten-year-old girl buys for a dollar a little poorly printed and incomprehensible booklet that does not meet the expectations of the kid. It will however be the founding act of a long quest. The sixties were coming to an end and the relationship to the body began to change fundamentally. Sport as a leisure activity began to develop, especially for women, for whom physical activity had hitherto been considered very little. The aerobics lessons delivered by Jane Fonda in neon tights will soon appear.

It’s a revelation for young Alison. This need to move will take more and more space in her life and she will throw herself headlong into various sports. Whether it’s running, skiing, cycling, karate or yoga, she will multiply the practices, with intense discipline and a need to hurt herself, seeking a form of pleasure in pain. The effort only makes sense if it is accompanied by a form of vertigo, close to meditation.

In fact, what is the subject of this book? The author asks herself the question over the pages. She realizes a lucid and modest self-portrait, not afraid to expose faults and her neuroses, but without ever giving way to self-pity. She is also very aware of the constant evolution that shapes her personality. She divides her book into chapters, each covering periods of ten years. The perspective of the adolescent girl is not that of the young woman, nor that of the adult who faces the specter of menopause. Implicitly, it is also a part of the history of the United States which appears in transparency. If this aspect is never treated head-on, the author succeeds in bringing out the stakes of the different eras. She does not deliver a lecture. She offers her point of view, as an individual, who happens to be gay and an artist. Yet it refuses to be reduced to these two attributes. This is what makes his offer so broad.

Some will no doubt be put off by the very idea of ​​a graphic novel signed by a lesbian, feminist and intellectual who mixes in it Eastern philosophy, literary erudition and psychoanalytical questions. They would deprive themselves of an extremely funny and touching book which deals with a universal subject: the quest for oneself. It should also be noted that, after two very dark books, this one is surprisingly light and fresh. The contribution of color, made by his partner Holly Rae Taylor has a lot to do with it. It is the work of a peaceful person, who has found the key to something precious. It is not that of the secret of superhuman strength. Anyway, if such a treasure exists, you have to find it by yourself. Alison Bechdel does not claim to hold the truth, nor does she propose to guide her readers towards any liberation. She shares her journey, with its ups and downs, without pretension. Thanks to her.

By T. Cauvin

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The secret of superhuman strength

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