Sunday, March 8, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

by Roz Chast
Bloomsbury     2014
224 pages     Graphic Memoir

First a disclaimer: This is not a good book to read when you are almost 72 years old, have just had an accident that cracked your pelvis, are using a walker, and feeling very vulnerable. That being said, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant is a remarkable memoir of parental decline and death through Roz Chast's eyes. 

Chast is one of The New Yorker's premier cartoonists, and in trying to memorialize her parents, she does what she does best and tells  her story as a graphic memoir. An only child, she was raised by educator parents—an overbearing mother and a sweet, but ill-defined father. Now, when they reach their 90s, she has to figure out a plan for their care and their eventual death. She must deal with the Brooklyn apartment where they have lived for many years. She must deal with their co –dependence, something  her parents celebrate. She must deal with her anger toward what she sees is the unfair way she was treated by her mother. The story, itself, is not so different from what most of us experience as we watch our parents decline and die. What makes Chast's book so special is the format and the tremendous impact made by Chast's style of writing and drawing.

The New York Times review says: "Cartoons, as it happens, are tailor-made for the absurdities of old age, illness and dementia, the odd dramas and grinding repetition expertly illustrated by copious exclamation points, capital letters and antic drawings. They also limit the opportunity for navel gazing and self-pity, trapping you in the surreal moments themselves. The recurring, maniacally angry face of Chast’s mother, which Chast eventually mimics, is one I have seen in my own mirror all too often."

Indeed there is much to learn from Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?. First, we learn that there is a need to have a discussion about these important things—not pleasant, but necessary. There is a need to declutter households. (This is one of my big deals.) There is a need to grieve what isn't, wasn't, or what could have been. There is a need to come to terms with life and with death. The most important moments of the book are at the end when Chast sketches her dying and then dead mother, because "I didn't know what else to do."  By allowing herself to bare her feelings in the best way she knows how, Chast has given us all an opportunity to allow our own feelings to emerge. 
Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is the winner of numerous awards. It was a finalist for the National Book Award, named one of the New York Times best books of 2014, and the winner of several other awards.

New York Times review.
Here is a sketchbook from the New Yorker with pieces from Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

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