Book Reviews

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

18594409[1]“In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the “crazy closet”—with predictable results—the tools that had served Roz well through her parents’ seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed.

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.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.” ~Goodreads

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Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? has been on my radar since May when it was released. I had heard some buzz about it and then when it appeared at the library, no one was checking it out. Soooo glad that I decided to take it home recently and in one sitting I laughed out loud and then went into the ugly cry. It’s no surprise that it was awarded the Kirkus Prize Nominee for Nonfiction as well as a 2014 National Book Award Finalist. This memoir in graphic novel form is easily one of my favorites this year. The urge to buy my own copy and pass it around was very strong after finishing it.

From the cover it appears that this book is going to be funny. And it really is. Roz’s parents are very simple and set in their ways. They cling to one another and don’t venture out into a more modern and  active lifestyle in their elder years. As frustrating as Roz finds their views on life (mostly negative and paranoid) and lack of adventure, she does her best to be there for her parents while giving them space to just be themselves. This is something I have learned myself having a father who is 83 this year. As much as I want him to “get with the times”, he is happiest in a routine doing the same things, wearing the same clothes, surrounded by the same cluster of “junk”, eating the same foods, retelling the same ancient stories and most comfortable with simplicity.

Roz mentions that her parents are fortunate in their senior years because they don’t have serious health problems. No cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, etc. but they have something just as awful. Old age and old bodies and old minds. This is where I lost it. Because I am experiencing it now with my father. To see a parent slowly, very slowly, become someone else, more frail and absent minded, is very challenging. It breaks your heart to see these once vital bodies and strong personalities change into something of a shell of a person.

Roz beautifully shares those last few years of their lives with a range of emotions and her candid approach is what makes the reader exhale. No one wants to talk about the burden, the extreme expense, the embarrassing physical situations, the reluctancy of giving up personal care over to a stranger and the very slow death some seniors have to go through.

I hope I haven’t scared you away from reading this necessary book. It really is a “must read” that examines our relationships with our parents and something no one ever really wants to talk about: that final act in life.

“I wish that, at the end of life, when things were truly “done”, there was something to look forward to. Something more pleasure-oriented. Perhaps opium, or heroin. So you become addicted. So what? All-you-can-eat ice cream parlors for the extremely aged. Big art picture books with music. Extreme palliative care, for when you’ve had it with everything else: the x-rays, the MRIs, the boring food, and the pills that don’t do anything at all. Would that be so bad?”

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3 thoughts on “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

    • It’s possible you would. I see seniors come into the library all the time and this book made me approach them differently. I wish it was around when I was younger and my grandparents were still alive so I knew what they were going through as well.

      • None of my grandparents are around anymore, but I can see how this book would make readers see older people differently in general. Great point.

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