Magazine article The Spectator

'Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir', by Roz Chast - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir', by Roz Chast - Review

Article excerpt

Credit: Cressida Connolly

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir Roz Chast

Bloomsbury, pp.240, £18.99, ISBN: 9781608198061

It takes a special sort of talent to be able to make drawings of your own 97-year-old mother on her deathbed funny. The person with that gift is Roz Chast. Subscribers to the New Yorker will already be familiar with her marvellous cartoons, which often feature elderly and over-neurotic parents shouting dire imprecations to their rather dazed and mild-looking adult offspring. Their warnings tend to concern such mortal perils as crossing the road, running to answer the telephone or touching the handrail on public transport (the germs!). The subjects are from Brooklyn, but the appeal is universal: visiting a friend in Athens the other day, I saw a Chast cartoon stuck to the fridge door.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a graphic memoir of Chast's own parents. Or rather, an account of their extreme old age, ailments and death. If you have a hated old aunt or an obdurately ancient mother-in-law and you're stuck for what to give them for Christmas, this would make the most tactless and unkind present it is possible to imagine.

Almost nothing is sacred here. Dignity? Forget it! There's the dust and grime and accumulation of the parents' apartment, their pathetic fears and stubborn refusal to face the reality of being infirm and slightly gaga; in time there are incontinence pads, bedsores, gaping mouths. The only thing Roz Chast hasn't done is draw her parents' bottoms. And she doesn't even pretend not to mind the enormous financial cost of their long-term residential care and nursing.

You might surmise that Chast loathed her parents, but the picture which emerges is oddly affectionate. Her mother was a harridan, certainly, a woman who preferred to be right about everything than to be loved. …

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