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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Very Funny Book About What It's Like to Watch Your Parents Die

Posted by on Tue, Jun 3, 2014 at 4:01 PM

(Roz Chast reads at Elliott Bay Book Company tonight. The reading is free.)

If you don't like Roz Chast's wobbly line and wry sense of humor, there's nothing in her new memoir Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? that will change your mind. But if you don't like Roz Chast, you're basically hopeless: Chast's cartoons are lively and smart and packed with a self-aware energy. And Pleasant is the best thing I've ever seen from her.

Pleasant is a memoir by a daughter who found herself in the difficult position of caretaking for her elderly parents as they aged into infirmity, and Chast's confessions feel brutally honest. She loves her parents, but they're so stuck in their ways that the age barrier might as well be a language barrier. She gets exasperated with them, she gets outright angry at them, and at times she doesn't check on them until the guilt becomes too great to bear.

Chast tells the story with a blend of her traditional cartoons, long handwritten passages, and photographs and keepsakes from her youth. Though the story she tells is inexorably aimed toward dying and death, she makes room for levity throughout. I've never read a memoir quite like this. The story of Chast's parents is becoming more and more common as science gets better and better at deferring death, but I've never seen anyone approach the process of death with this level of candor, or humor, or charm. It's heavy material handled lightly, and with the confidential tone of a friend talking over coffee.


Comments (7) RSS

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Fnarf 1
If you don't love Roz Chast to pieces you can't be my friend.

If you haven't already watched your folks die get ready, you will. It sucks.
Posted by Fnarf on June 3, 2014 at 4:16 PM · Report this
And if the fates allow, you will watch one or both of them move to the World of Dementia. It totally sucks.

I love Roz Chast.
Posted by LuisitaPhD on June 3, 2014 at 4:39 PM · Report this
@1,2 Really? Because I am living my life to burn out, before they fade away...
Posted by Talk'n Bout My Generation on June 3, 2014 at 5:32 PM · Report this
emma's bee 4
I saw her phenomenal excerpt of this in (of course) the New Yorker. Utterly heartwrenching. At 48, I feel incredibly fortunate to still have my folks around and in good health. And yet, to know that this is what awaits is already painful. This is one of the rare benefits of being among the generation just after the boomers: the most talented of their lot, expressing what awaits me just around that NEXT corner.
Posted by emma's bee on June 3, 2014 at 7:26 PM · Report this
I'm sick to death of reading peoples' heartwrenching/heartwarming/quirky tales of their parents' decline. Great cartoons aside, it's cruel. When all of you get a bit older than 48, you'll probably be creeped out also. By then so many of us will be in dementia, these books will be coming out in dozens each day.
Posted by sarah70 on June 3, 2014 at 10:20 PM · Report this
My mother requested that I play a particular song at her funeral when I was about 20. Whenever I hear this song now (I'm 28) I can essentially see this coming day with her dead. However far off it may be now, it will nevertheless happen and it will happen in a more real way than my own death. Roz's work is an unflinching look at these intervening years.
Posted by bradl on June 3, 2014 at 10:44 PM · Report this
This book is SO SO SO good. I recently read it while traveling alone cross country by train. It felt like the perfect companion for sitting in a tiny room for two days watching the world go by.

It's beautifully written and full of a mix of love and exasperation that I hope I never feel for my parents.
Posted by Mike Friedman on June 5, 2014 at 8:51 PM · Report this

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