This graphic novel has a purple cover and it feels like a text book, which for some reason made me happy to hold it. You can tell by the cover what’s coming – attempts at conversations nobody wants to have about things nobody wants to happen though everyone knows probably will.
Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a mostly graphic memoir of how she dealt with the final years of her parents’ lives.
This subject sounds depressing and it is, but Chast is sneaky. Before hitting you with her sweet father’s dementia, she first endears you to him and the love he has for his bossy wife. How they immigrated from Russia after losing family in the Holocaust then lived through the Great Depression and wars. Now in their 80s, they’re falling from step ladders and refusing to go to the doctors when facing declining health.
Only child Roz Chast grew up deep in Brooklyn. As her parents begin hitting the big speed bumps of age, reality hits her. It’s completely on her to get them to deal with the ugly stuff – wills, power of attorney, working with an elder lawyer, long term care. She shares the small highs and frequent lows in a matter-of-fact tone that, combined with her illustrations, made this tough topic readable.
It’s a very human story. Chast pulls the reader in gently and makes it easy to empathize with both sides – the frustrated child who’d rather not and her elderly parents clinging to their deteriorating health and the apartment they lived in for forty years because what comes next sucks. Sometimes the pace felt off, but in the beginning I was too interested to mind.
One of the worst parts of senility must be that you have to get terrible news over and over again.
I’ve never read a memoir that addresses the experience of caring for aging, sick parents so directly. It sounds emotionally difficult and financially devastating. Escapism this is not – probably better suited for fall or winter reading when the mind is more willing to look inward. The first half struck me as sad, sincere and slightly humorous in all the right places, but what I appreciated most was the honesty.
This is Chast’s story. She shares the guilt of paying someone else to do the dirty work and the heartbreaking final day of each parent’s life. Early on I was impressed by the close-up on her parents’ relationship and her method of showing how age and illness change everything. Then about halfway through I started feeling icky reading this. The book felt like a sounding board for an affluent woman to complain about the financial burden of having to pay for her parents’ care with their savings/her dwindling inheritance.
I didn’t love this book. It hits all the notes book critics and awards take seriously, but I was glad when it was over.
It did make me hyper aware of clutter, so that’s something. The part where she goes through her parent’s apartment definitely made me think about the sort of stuff I should accumulate. Forget dusty newspapers. By the time I hit 102, my little cabin on the tip top of a mountain will appear clean and cozy until my unfortunate relatives discover the hidden room…