Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir

It's no secret to fans of Roz Chast's New Yorker cartoons (and the dozen books bearing her name, including What I Hate from A to Z) that she draws on her life to make us laugh. But her first graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, is a chronicle of her parents' aging and death, with cartoons, text, photos and ephemera, all in her signature style.

The only child of a meek father and a domineering mother, Chast joined in their denial of the impending health and financial concerns of old age; likewise, she had turned a blind eye to the contents of the "crazy closet" in their Brooklyn apartment of 48 years.

But when her mother is hospitalized for two weeks with acute diverticulitis and her father's worsening dementia becomes obvious, Chast became her parents' caretaker; they move to "The Place," an assisted-living facility near her Connecticut home (but light-years from Brooklyn). Her drawing of the grim reaper seated on their old couch underscores the move's finality, and photos of their "stuff" are poignant yet funny ("Museum of old Schick shavers," a drawer of jar lids).

Her self-portrait is predictably self-deprecating, with lots of bug-eyed drawings, and Chast minimizes how caring for her parents impacted the rest of her life. Her themes are universal: reversal of the parent/child role; choices in end-of-life care; reflections when a parent dies. Particularly striking are the unannotated portraits of her mother's last days, an expression of love by a daughter who eloquently draws what she feels. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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