Wednesday, April 29, 2015

book review: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

The backstory: Veteran comic artist Roz Chast's graphic memoir was a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award (non-fiction), one of the top 5 New York Times nonfiction titles of 2014, and a finalist for the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award (Autobiography.)

The basics: Chast, an only child, recounts her struggles with her parents, who lived into their 90's, refusing to plan for their death.

My thoughts: I've enjoyed Roz Chast's cartoons in The New Yorker for a long time, which makes sense given the back of this book tells me she's been drawing them for the magazine since before I was born. Parts of this memoir resemble comic strips, but I was surprised to see some pages have exclusively text (handwritten.) Chast plays with format in interesting ways in this graphic memoir, but it's her more traditional images I found most entertaining.

What I liked most about this memoir was Chast's ability to provide some levity to the darkness. She writes honestly about the frustrations of caring for two very old parents, but she lightens the dark subject matter well. One particular joke about sweater shopping with her father kept me laughing for several minutes (and made Hawthorne join me laughing, as no one laughs alone when he's in the room (he was playing with toys on the blanket next to me while I read.)) While I appreciated the moments of levity, I also find myself wishing Chast pushed some pieces of the memoir a bit farther. Her focus was relatively narrow--her relationship with her parents, their relationship with each other, and the financial stress growing old puts on people. She frequently mentions her children, and I found myself wishing she told that side of the story too. As a new parent reading this memoir, I found myself thinking more about not leaving a mess for Hawthorne (who will be an only child) than worrying about my own parents (and in-laws) living into their 90's.

The verdict: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant is at times laugh-out loud funny. At others it's deeply poignant. At others Chast's understandable frustrations manage to somehow be both. It is both an emotionally honest memoir and a nuanced tribute to her parents and their often frustrating relationship. Surprisingly, the two visual highlights for me were not Chast's comic drawing but the actual pictures of her parents apartment she inserts and the more life-like drawings she creates in her mother's last days and weeks of life.

Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 240 pages
Publication date: May 6, 2014
Source: library 

Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant from Amazon (Kindle edition.)

Want more? Visit Roz Chast's website.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!


  1. I haven't heard of this one, but it sounds like something I should read - thanks for bringing it to my attention!

  2. I've heard mostly good things about this book, but some were a bit taken aback at it. I have a copy and plan to read it soon. Both my parents are gone now, but their last few years were not easy on them or on me. Sometimes, you had to laugh because otherwise you'd cry forever. Anyway, I still want to read it and see what I think. Love the story about your little boy's laughter. :-)


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