Monday, 9 January 2017

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

With her trademark quirky humour, Roz Chast has been publishing cartoons in The New Yorker since 1978. In Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Chast has written a graphic memoir chronicling her relationship with her parents as they grew old, well into their nineties, and their reluctance to think about their care and eventual dying.

Chast’s parents were older than the norm when she was born and lived in the same Brooklyn apartment for 48 years. And never threw anything out. Her mother was the dominant parent, an ex-teacher who didn’t stand any nonsense and threatened anyone with ‘a blast from Chast!’ Her father was quieter, timid and nervous, rather like Roz herself, with a different set of peculiar habits.

While the narrative is mostly chronological, there are vignettes, many of which are very funny. The Wheel of Doom is a diagram of things to be avoided on pain of death: swimming without a cap; laughing during a meal; wearing too tight watchbands…; there are poems her mother wrote, illustrated by her daughter; her father’s paranoia over decades of accumulated bankbooks; photos of hoarded stuff in her parents old apartment, much of it dating back to the 1950s.

Through Chast’s characterisation of her parents, the quirky drawings, the growing guilt and anxieties that she records, you get to see the funny side of coping with the aged. But it is a poignant, honest and increasingly sad read as well, particularly as her parents decline and Chast has to deal with a mixture of emotions and memories.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is an award winning book (Kirkus Prize in Non-fiction; National Book Award Finalist; National Book Critics Circle Award Winner). Give it a try, even if the graphic format isn’t your usual sort of reading, for this is an outstanding book in so many ways.

Posted by JAM

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