Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Carol Luers EymanNot until they were past 90 did Roz Chast’s parents admit they were aging. (Of course, all of us are aging all the time, but hey, can’t we talk about something more pleasant?)

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

“Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” is available from the library in hardcover.

Chast, a New Yorker cartoonist and an only child, was herself guilty of postponing discussion of wills (living and dead), finances, and powers of attorney with her parents. When she finally introduced the topics, her parents’ response gave her the title of her graphic memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

She tells the story of her parents’ decline in her characteristic cartoon style, with wobbly line drawings whose characters exude neuroses.

Interspersed are pages of handwritten text, which makes the story feel more personal than the typeset font you’d find in a traditional memoir. A small set of photos documents the clutter she finds when she visits her parents “in their natural habitat” for the first time in 11 years. (One, showing three pairs of her mother’s old glasses, is particularly touching.)

She attempts to exculpate herself for neglecting to visit by describing their neighborhood:

“Not Brooklyn Heights or Park Slope or even Carroll Gardens. Not the Brooklyn of artists or hipsters or people who made–and bought–$8.00 chocolate bars. This was DEEP Brooklyn, the Brooklyn of people who have been left behind by everything and everyone.”

But she redeems herself by jumping into their lives with a level  of commitment familiar to any middle-aged adult whose parents are reaching the end of life.

The stories are familiar: her mother spends two weeks in the hospital with acute diverticulitis, returns home, insists on making breakfast for her husband the next morning, and takes a severe fall. When Chast decides it’s time to move them to a “Place” where they can get nursing assistance, they resist.

Particularly refreshing is Chast’s willingness to talk about the financial anxiety she experiences as their savings are deleted, not just by the sky-high rent at their  “Place” but also by the extras: full-time nursing assistance and hospice, not to mention the adult diapers, Ensure, and other supplies none of us want to acknowledge we may need ourselves one day.

Illness and death may not seem appropriate fodder for cartoons, but Chast masterfully renders scenes that are poignant, irritating, dramatic, as well as amusing, in a book you will consume in just two or three sittings.

About Carol Luers Eyman

Carol Luers Eyman is the outreach and community services coordinator at the Nashua Public Library. After graduating from Kirkland College, she earned a master’s of education and a certificate in technical communication from the University of Massachusetts.

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