May 06

Roz Chast: “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?”

Roz Chast, who may be best known for her New Yorker cartoons, now has a graphic memoir. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is about being her parents’ caregiver in their last several years. It includes not only her signature wit and cartoons but also some prose, documents, and family photos.

The publisher’s description introduces some of the issues only-child Roz Chast encountered before and after the turning point of her mom’s in-home accidental tumble in 2005:

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies—an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades—the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

Douglas Wolk, Los Angeles Times, summarizes what went down before assisted living (the “Place”) and hospice became involved:

The story proper begins with an account of Chast’s 2001 visit to her octogenarian parents’ house for the first time in more than a decade. It became clear over the next few years that their situation wasn’t sustainable in the long term — they were getting far too old to take care of themselves — but they also didn’t want to make a deliberate change in the routine they’d had as a couple for decades, quarrels and all. They also refused to confront the reality of their failing bodies, because that always seemed to be followed by unspeakable horrors.

This excerpt from Kirkus Reviews takes us farther—to the end, in fact:

Chast rarely lapses into sentimentality and can often be quite funny, as she depicts mortality as ‘The Moving Sidewalk of Life’ (‘Caution: Drop-Off Ahead’) or deals with dread and anxiety on the ‘Wheel of DOOM, surrounded by the ‘cautionary’ tales of my childhood.’ The older her parents get, the more their health declines and the more expensive the care they require, the bleaker the story becomes—until, toward the end, a series of 12 largely wordless drawings of her mother’s final days represents the most intimate and emotionally devastating art that Chast has created. So many have faced (or will face) the situation that the author details, but no one could render it like she does.

For an immediate peek at the new book click this New Yorker link for a 12-page sampling.

Selected Reviews

Publishers Weekly: “Poignant and funny…Despite the subject matter, the book is frequently hilarious, highlighting the stubbornness and eccentricities (and often sheer lunacy) of the author’s parents. It’s a homage that provides cathartic ‘you are not alone’ support to those caring for aging parents…This is a cartoon memoir to laugh and cry, and heal, with—Roz Chast’s masterpiece.”

Library Journal: “She’s especially dead-on with the unpredictable mental states of both the dying and their caregivers: placidity, denial, terror, lunacy, resignation, vindictiveness, and rage…Chast so skillfully exposes herself and her family on the page as to give readers both insight and entertainment on a topic nearly everyone avoids. As with her New Yorker cartoons, Chast’s memoir serves up existential dilemmas along with chuckles and can help serve as a tutorial for the inevitable.”

Alison Bechdel: “Bedsores, dementia, broken hips—no details are spared, and never has the abyss of dread and grief been plumbed to such incandescently hilarious effect. The lines between laughter and hysteria, despair and rage, love and guilt, are quavery indeed, and no one draws them more honestly, more…unscrimpingly, than Roz Chast.”