Review: The Secret to Superhuman Strength

The Secret to Superhuman Strength The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this memoir of body, mind, and relationships, Bechdel explores how she's come to better understand herself and her close relationships through her pursuit of physical excellence. The narrative moves chronologically through the decades of her life and is filled with a mixture of general themes and specific scenes that often focus on her latest physical pursuit, recent relationship challenges with parents or partners, her coping mechanisms, and increasingly unhealthy work habits. Interspersed, Bechdel calls upon a mixture of Buddhist writings, Enlightenment poets (Wordsworth & Coleridge), Transcendental thinkers (Emerson and Fuller), and Beat poets (namely, Kerouac) to frame and connect her own narrative as well as highlight the intellectual giants who have guided her in this deep reflection of her life. In many ways, Bechdel outdoes her previous accomplishment (Fun Home) and yet the complexity of this story is unlikely to wield as much attention and fanfare because of that complexity. Bechdel pushes herself to show the same level of scrutiny about herself as she has for her father. The power of Bechdel's narrative and even art is that the work invites the reader to think too about the myths of body and mind that have led them to their inner and outer relationships. The art is consistent with Bechdel's previous work but can be bolder at times with a single or double-page panels of black and white watercolors that draw out the majesty of nature and (occasionally, at the same time), the psychological mountains she is trying to navigate. The water-coloring by her wife, who also has a starring role in the final quarter of the book also proves rewarding.

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