#1 New York Times Bestseller In her first memoir, Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast's memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents. When it came to her elderly mother and father, Roz held to the practices of denial, avoidance, and distraction. But when Elizabeth Chast climbed a ladder to locate an old souvenir from the "crazy closet"?with predictable results?the tools that had served Roz well through her parents' seventies, eighties, and into their early nineties could no longer be deployed. While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies?an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades?the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; managing logistics; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care. An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant will show the full range of Roz Chast's talent as cartoonist and storyteller.
This book was surprisingly comforting for me, although the topics explored are anything but. Three years ago my father experienced a health event that brought about major changes for him and my mother, including moving out of the home they had lived in for over 30 years. They had prepared for this in some ways, but not in others, and my brother and I have been managing the situation since. Chast perfectly captures her emotions, which are very much like my own and for that I am grateful. It is tremendously comforting to know there are others who have strained relations with a parent, and ambivalent feelings about managing their care. Similarly, my brother and I are not the only ones dealing with the seemingly endless ways to spend our parents' money on care. And yet, since my parents are still living, it's also disconcerting to read Chast's frank account of her parents' final weeks. When the time comes, will I be better prepared by having read this book?
I don't know the answer to that question, but highly recommend this book for anyone with aging parents.
Chast pulls no punches. In her story, I see the story of my own parents and I see myself as she struggles with time and money to help her parents. She doesn't always do it with grace – who can be perpetually gracious when juggling one's own career and family with the needs of parents, who also need increasingly more time? She tries to inject a bit of humor, but it often the humor comes off as a very sad wry wink at fate as when her father, once a professor and lover of words, is robbed of his words by Alzheimer's.
I had hoped to be able to share this one with my 88 year old mother to generate some conversation. My father passed away in a nursing home last year, and I so wish we could have done things differently. But while this book absolutely nails my experiences with my aging parents, it's not going to be shared with Mom. I think she would find it rather depressing and be offended at some of the humor.
Still, if you have an aging loved one in your family, or want to contemplate your own future, I think this book is quite thought provoking and recommended. 4 stars
As we all have aging relatives ourselves - or may be tiptoeing to the abyss ourselves - I guarantee you will have at least one of those "Aha! That is SOOO true!" moments. Humor can help us cope with so many of life's (and death's) unpleasant realities. Chast's efforts in this regard are receiving well deserved accolades: National Book Critics Circle Award, Kirkus Prize Winner to name a few.
Can't recommend this book enough.
New Yorker cartoonist Chast has drawn and written the story of her parents' aging. She looks honestly at the indignities of growing older and at the ways that watching her parents age makes her re-examine her feelings for them, her memories of a strained only childhood, and the changes that the inevitable decline causes, both for her and for Elizabeth and George. She doesn't shy away from the universal difficulties so many face as they age, physically, mentally, emotionally, but she also doesn't shy away from an examination of her own feelings about caring for elderly parents and the generally undiscussed aspects of doing. The fact that her parents' aging doesn't change the fact of her sometimes tough, sometimes contentious relationship with them (and specifically her mother) is also well on display. Combining comics and prose here often highlights the black humor involved in the end stages of life and the fact that if you didn't laugh, you'd cry many a time. She chronicles Elizabeth and George's reluctance to discuss death or to acknowledge their reduced abilities, their fierce attempt to hold onto their independence, and their eventual, unavoidable decline into dementia and physical frailty. It's tough subject matter indeed.
The memoir is honest, sometimes brutally honest in ways that feel intrusive. The photographs of her parents' apartment after they leave it for assisted living are unspeakably sad although Chast seems to be trying for a levity with them by highlighting the ancient and long discontinued products in them. Her frustration with her parents comes through the story loud and clear and I do appreciate that she hasn't turned them into undeserved saints by virtue of their deaths but sometimes it does feel as if she goes too far in revealing them in all of their truth. Although the exact situations she faces are hers and her parents' alone, the general feel of the memoir will certainly be relatable for many caring for their own parent or parents. I have to admit that I am not a fan of the graphic format, feeling pulled between pictures and words, never allowing me to fully engage in one or the other and this memoir hasn't changed my mind. For me, they do not compliment each other entirely, instead leaving me feeling that the exclusion of one or the other would allow the author to go deeper into the chosen medium rather than splitting the difference between the two. Then again, in such a difficult book, perhaps going deeper would have been a mistake that magnified the things I already had trouble with. I watched my mother experience much of what is portrayed here when she cared for my grandmother but I never doubted that there was a deep and abiding love between them no matter what, a feeling I didn't see enough evidence of in this. This is an unflinching look at the way we avoid the end of life, the reality and weight of it, and how we all finally do have to deal with it no matter how unpleasant it might be.
It brought back many memories of my father, but it also made me feel depressed as my mother is now in a nursing home after numerous falls. I don't recommend reading this over the holidays as i did. I originally thought that this would be a humerous take on parent-child relationships, not coming to grips with their deterioration & death.
This graphic book is not for everyone.
I'm always amazed at the deep, almost relentless candor of graphic memoirists; Chast's is as self-indicting as Speigelman's _Maus_, and as stripped-down-brave as Bechdel's _Fun Home_. But it's also funnier, and because of that--to me, anyway--even more poignant. But while I expected this to be a tough read ( started it thinking I'd have to read it in small doses), Chast's humor and her ability to frame events, both literally and figuratively, made this so compelling and readable that I devoured it pretty much in a single sitting.
As a folklorist, I especially enjoyed the way Chast weaves family stories and traditions into the text, from the erroneous story Chast is told about why her older sister was stillborn, to her mother's demented stories about how her long-dead mother-in-law is trying to kill her. There's also a very memorable scene with a Ouija board.
Truly one of the best things I've read all year.
This is up there with Being Mortal as a book that should be read and discussed by families, so that everyone has some idea of what they want to occur, and where they see their lives going when they reach old age.
Beautifully done. This is a perfect companion book to [Being Mortal], Atul Gawande's current book.
Chast is also very blunt about what happens to 99% of people when they get to be truly old - say somewhere between 85 and 90. "Once you pass your physical peak - let's say 25 - the falling off is incremental. Every year - unless something "happens" - you get a little slower, a little saggier, until you hit 90. At that point, things start to fall apart at a much faster rate. Which is why when I hear about people trying to figure out how to live until they're 120, I want to ask them: ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND?"
Finally, after multiple falls, broken bones and hospital stays, in 2007 Chast's parents admitted that they could no live alone and moved to an assisted living facility near her home in Connecticut. They left with small suitcases with their clothes leaving the author to clean out the Brooklyn apartment they had lived in for 50 years. This brings up another useful life lesson. Unless you are talking about your photo albums, GET RID OF YOUR STUFF.
Once in assisted living, Chast saw her parents' assets being rapidly depleted: $7400 per month for the rent and two meals a day plus $200 more for furniture rental and another $600 for "personal assistance" (help with dressing bathing, etc.). None of was covered by medical insurance. To add insult to injury the Medicare Advantage plan her parents had in New York through their jobs as teachers in the New York public schools did not carry over into Connecticut (something that the ACA would have remedied), so many medial expenses now were paid out of pocket. And later, when her mother starts to need round-the-clock nursing, that too had to be paid for. At the end, the grand total was $14,000 per month.
Chast does an excellent job of not only vividly detailing the end of life experience, but also discussing her own ambivalence as a caregiver and her guilt over those feelings. As Bette Davis once said: Old age ain't no place for sissies. This book will give you a few pointers in how to get ready.
It's also somewhat informative. I don't know that it was specifically her intention, but she does discuss costs and insurance issues they ran into that made me think about things I really hadn't before.
It was a quick and enjoyable read about a topic that can be pretty depressing, but she handles with a lighter, more comical feel. Then again, isn't it easier to laugh about it when it's happening to somebody else?
I recommend this to anybody who is aging (so everybody!) and particularly those whose parents are getting "up there".
New Year's resolutions: get all those POAs, DNRs and other TLAs (three letter acronyms) in order; keep the steady flow going to Amvets, Cerebral Palsy and the other charities that take old stuff..
I was a little disappointed in her book "What I Hate," I think because the A-Z format was constricting for her. Memoir is her forte - I hope she writes more.
Chast has suffered mightily from "a blast from Chast" - her mother Elizabeth is headstrong and domineering, maybe the prototype Jewish mother, and her father is affectionate yet completely cowed by his wife, maybe the prototype Jewish dad. Roz escapes home as soon as she can, and rarely returns. Her parents remain in Brooklyn - "deep Brooklyn", where hipsters fear to tread. They rent the same apartment for almost 50 years - too afraid to move or to buy a house.
The most startling part of their lives is their utter devotion and dependence upon each other, especially after they both retire. This is generational, I believe, or maybe not - I know few couples in the Boomers, Gen X, etc that seemingly have no life outside their marriage.
The events leading up to their deaths, in their 90s and in ill health, are tragic for all three. But Chast has laid it all out for
us - big warts, goiters, blisters, and all. I'm thinking of giving it to my parents as a cautionary tale, but as my friend, you should also "read and learn", as Roz's mother would say.