Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir by Roz Chast, Bloomsbury, 234 pages ($28). One of the major books of 2014. Among the more regrettable things about the tidal waves of information that sweep through our culture in the Internet Era is that much of it is misinformation, disinformation and merely heedless and hasty rehash of old information. The latter seems to be the case here for some credible and creditable people who are appending the word “hilarious” to their encomia to this book.
It is anything but. True, the drawing style and frantically neurotic lettering are nothing if not familiar to those who have long considered Roz Chast THE great cartoonist and anatomist of everyday anxiety in our era. One’s first encounter with Chast – especially years ago when it coincided with the world’s introduction to her – is usually one of the most delightful and eye-opening pressings of the “reset” button that any of us experience in our sense of humor. It is absolutely true that, from then on, the most unexpected things are indeed funny and indeed, even hilarious in her work – her own anxieties among the most notable among them.
But this memoir is not really funny at all nor was it meant to be. While it is far from deficient in the kind of middle-class exasperation and desperation that is funny in other Chast cartoons, this full cartoon memoir of her living with her aged parents’ slow and terrible decline is one of the more moving and bracingly candid that you are likely to find anywhere.
This is, in its original and unexpected way, one of the great autobiographical memoirs of our time – a detailed account of dementia, bills, bedsores, desperations and the profound sadnesses and revelations that wallop grown adults caring for the long parental good nights that are transforming everything they think they know.
From Page 205: “One of the hospice ladies told me ‘The devil doesn’t want her and God’s not ready;’ Another told me she had never, in her entire time as a hospice volunteer, seen anything like my mother’s tenacity.’ ” In one sense, this book from Chast is completely unexpected. In the deepest sense, it’s one we should have known was coming.
– Jeff Simon