Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

by Roz Chast

Hardcover, 2014




New York : Bloomsbury, 2014.


"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" --… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member lisapeet
Just wonderful—hilarious, heartbreaking, and physically beautiful. I'm in the midst of the eldercare thing and every word of it rang true. Bravo, bravo.
LibraryThing member jmoncton
The fact that the author is a cartoonist and the colorful clownish drawings give readers an early impression that this is a comic book - a funny diatribe about life with aging parents. But once you start reading this, you quickly realize that this is a heart wrenching story of a woman watching her aging parents slow deterioration and decline. It is a universal experience that many people will go through. With both of my parents dying in the past 3 years - one from Alzheimer's and one from Parkinson's - this book really hit close to home. Thank you Roz Chast for so eloquently expressing the terrible angst and gut wrenching decisions that caring for aging parents involves. Very poignant and touching.… (more)
LibraryThing member lauralkeet
This memoir about the experience of caring for aging parents is presented in graphic novel form with a mixture of comics and text. Roz Chast, a cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, sets the stage by describing her parents in their 80s, living independently in the same Brooklyn apartment where Chast grew up. In just a few pages, and with a strong dose of humor, readers develop a pretty good sense of the individual characters and the relationship dynamics at play. When her mother falls and requires hospital care, it ushers in a new phase of life for both Chast and her parents, and we accompany her on this difficult emotional journey.

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.
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LibraryThing member streamsong
This is Roz Chast's graphic non-fiction (illustrated memoir) about her parents' old age, decline and eventual deaths. We see them become increasingly more frail and unable to live on their own, requiring more help in day to day tasks.

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
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LibraryThing member michigantrumpet
For many, Roz Chast's many cartoons and covers represent the New Yorker Magazine as much as James Thurber's did for an earlier generation. In her graphic memoir, "Can't We talk about Something More Pleasant," Chast combines cartoons, photos, and text into a candid, moving and humorous portrayal of ushering her parents into their later years. For me, successful humor often carries a hint of bathos -- If you don't laugh, you'll cry. It also brings a hint of recognition and perhaps even a new way of looking at commonplace experiences. Chast unflinchingly shows her own and her parents' foibles, anxieties and frailties in ways simultaneously fresh, delightful, maddening, and sweet.

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.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
I know this graphic memoir has been really popular with readers both here on LT and in the world at large, but as I turned the electronic pages, I kept hoping for some comic relief and not finding any. Roz Chast describes the real journey she experienced with her elderly Jewish parents as they went from extreme old age barely able to care for themselves in their Brooklyn apartment to a nursing home and finally to their deaths. The memories she shares with her reading public aren't happy ones; her parents were happy to be a dysfunctional couple and she felt she had always been de trop, disrupting her parent's close rapport after she arrived late in their marriage to an already mature couple. Chast's mother terrified both Roz and her father, and always reminded young Roz that she was her mother and not her friend, so that they never developed any sort of rapport. By the time her father had died and her mother lingered on in the nursing home in a state of suspended animation, receiving extremely costly private care and refusing to die, Roz realised the time to build bridges had come and gone long ago and she was left to mostly worry about dwindling finances to keep supporting her mother with. I can see how many readers who have gone through this sort of ordeal may have connected with this memoir, but I just found it depressing from start to finish and I'm just glad to be able to move on to something more pleasant, finally.… (more)
LibraryThing member tangledthread
A graphic novel that serves as the author's memoir of her parents last years. It is a very honest portrayal of this difficult stage of life that our society doesn't "do well". There is just enough humor to break up the tension and toughness of the situation.
Beautifully done. This is a perfect companion book to [Being Mortal], Atul Gawande's current book.… (more)
LibraryThing member lunacat
I haven't experienced the loss of elderly parents, but I was old enough to watch the process with grandparents, and I am going through a similar process of change with my mother, as the roles slowly reverse themselves. This was touching, heartbreaking and oh so familiar, as Chast's sadness, frustration and difficulties adjusting become clear. I can't imagine there are many people of 25 or over who haven't had to go through some of the things she talks about, whether with grandparents or parents, and it can feel impossible at times. The funny moments are a lovely counterpoint to the sadness, and make it clear that humour can, and should be, found in even the most difficult of places.

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.
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LibraryThing member mkunruh
I read this in pieces over the past couple of weeks. I was never unhappy to revisit, but I liked it better in small doses. I should probably buy a copy so I give it to my kids in about 30 years.
LibraryThing member rvhatha
Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow wow. There's not much more I can say about this beyond "I laughed, I cried." But when I laughed, I literally laughed out loud--Roz Chast has the most singular, affecting way of depicting people at the end of their tether, and if there's anything in life that's inevitably going to bring you to the end of your tether, it's death. There are splash panels here that are reminiscent of Chast's best work for _The New Yorker_, such as "The Wheel of Doom," which depicts the many roads that lead inexorably to death, such as "sitting directly on the ground," which apparently causes "a cold in your kidneys," which ends, of course, in death (as do all of the other combinations...though sometimes only after they first cause deafness or blindness. No cartoonist captures the absurdity and the hypocrisy of of daily life better, and there's plenty of both to mine in Chast's story about the last years of her parents' lives.

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.
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LibraryThing member gbelik
This honest and touching memoir about dealing with aging parents doesn't sugarcoat the problems and emotions. I don't think anyone's parents are "easy" once they reach a certain age and state of mind; Roz's parents are in their 90's and are a classic case, forgetful, stubborn and encased in the possessions of a lifetime. She is honest about her frustrations and the practical problems that she didn't come equipped naturally to solve. Her illustrations make the story both more poignant and often hilarious. Anyone who has dealt with an older parent will see much of what they experienced; younger folk...prepare yourselves.… (more)
LibraryThing member whitreidtan
Aging and dying are topics we don't typically address if we can help it. Very few people want to acknowledge their mortality before they are forced to. I don't know the statistic offhand but the number of people who don't have wills is pretty staggering. There are likely countless reasons why not but one that certainly can't be dismissed is that a will forces people to look their own ultimate end directly in the face. We're a culture that doesn't even like to use the word "died." Instead we say we "lost" someone or that they "passed" to cushion the reality. If we are uncomfortable with death, we are at least as uncomfortable with aging, especially extreme aging. We avoid all of the unpleasant realities of elderly and failing bodies. Once people are no longer spry and fit, they disappear from our advertisements and our sight. To find a book that addresses these usually hidden topics, and to do it with openness and honesty is unusual. That it is a graphic memoir is perhaps even more unusual. Roz Chast's Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is just that book though, a no-holds-barred look at Chast's experience caring for her aging parents as they went from their eighties into their nineties and about the parent/child relationship that dictated so much of how they viewed each other and mortality.

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.
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LibraryThing member bragan
A graphic memoir by New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast chronicling her relationship with her parents, their relationship with each other, their declining final years, and their eventual deaths in their 90s. It's poignant, sad, and depressing, but also oddly charming and sometimes funny, and it captures the reality of aging, and of caring for aging parents profoundly and uncomfortably well. (It's also reminded me of the fact that I will never be able to afford to age and die with any dignity or humanity, since a half-decent "assisted living facility" costs more that I will ever, ever be able to afford, so, hey, that's a fun thing to think about!)… (more)
LibraryThing member Icewineanne
Well written memoir about Roz Chast's life, growing up & relationship with her parents, from her childhood to their death. Her father ended up with dementia. This really hit home with me, as my father had Alzheimer's for 10yrs before he passed away in s nursing home. My experience with my parents is strangely similar to Roz's as we are both only children of immigrant parents.
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.
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LibraryThing member maggie1944
This is a delightful book, and Roz Chast is kind enough to share some end of life (her parents) experiences without too much sugar coating. She does not dwell, and uses a quick, tightly written style to accompany her delightful drawings. I starting thinking of Neil Simon as I read it yesterday because to my non-New Yorker eyes she seems to be talking about much of the same world he wrote about. Full of good humor, pathos, and sympathy. I recommend it highly to any one.… (more)
LibraryThing member Copperskye
New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast’s graphic novel about the last few years of her parents’ lives. Both lived well into their 90s, but their advanced age meant that Roz, an only child, had to help them through the inevitable falls, loss of mental and physical acuity, a move to assisted living, hospice care, and death. Anyone who has witnessed their own parents advanced old age and death will recognize a lot of the same issues – both the lighthearted ones (how many pencils can two people own?) and the heartbreaking ones (too numerous to mention). Chast’s relationship with her domineering mother was not a good one and their fractured relationship was still apparent right up to the end. It certainly made me thankful (and lonely) for my own Mom. Still, a moving story told with wit, honesty, and love.… (more)
LibraryThing member Citizenjoyce
This graphic memoir is on several best of 2014 lists. It chronicles the last years of Roz Chast's parents, her anxious father and her overbearing mother. I can't imagine being truthful enough to write the way she does about her mother. Alison Bechdel has a blurb on the cover in which she mentions repeatedly how hilarious the book is. Wow. You need to be pretty thick skinned to find much of these memories hilarious, but having read Bechdel's memoirs, she has the skin for it. I almost didn't and found it made me quite uncomfortable. Discomfort is not a disqualifier, in fact, I wouldn't have even said it was a drawback had I been expecting something other than a humorous book about aging. So be warned, then you'll enjoy and be thankful for this very honest book.… (more)
LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
I liked everything about this book.
LibraryThing member etxgardener
If you have cared for elderly parents, are currently caring for elderly parents or anticipate caring for elderly parents you must read Roz Chat's graphic memoir of her experience which is funny, infuriating, frightening and ultimately extremely touching. Ms Chast, known for her sardonic New Yorker cartoons brings her sense of the ridiculous to the story of the last eight years of her parents' lives and anyone who has been involved in, or even close to, caregiving the very old will recognize themselves or their own parents in the author's description of her parents' slide toward the end of life. When Chast quotes her mother as saying, "That Harry Bendlestein, what a cluck!" I laughed out loud because my mother used that same derogatory term. Likewise when describing her father's obsession with his multiple bank books (some from banks that no longer existed), I thought about my mother-in-law. Similarly the disinclination of having "strangers" coming in to help with housework ("They'll steal things!") or to even consider an assisted living arrangement seem to be universal.

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.
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LibraryThing member tammychristine
I picked this book up at the library because I couldn't figure out what it was about. I read one page, in the middle, and laughed out loud, so I checked it out. It is a memoir by Roz Chast told in cartoons because she is a cartoonist. It is about her parents aging, having to move to "the Place" and dying. It sounds like a sad story but it is extremely funny and humble and respectful. My parents are in there early seventies so it is something I think about but am not dealing with yet. I hope I can handle is with as much love and grace as Roz showed her parents.… (more)
LibraryThing member librarymary09
Wow. This blew me away.
LibraryThing member RidgewayGirl
Roz Chast is a cartoonist best known for her work in The New Yorker. In Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, she writes movingly of her experience watching her parents age and how difficult it was to negotiate all that goes with that. Chase was an only child of older parents and she was never that close to them. Once she left home, she didn't return for decades, until the fragility of her parents and their ability to manage on their own became less certain.

Her parents, especially her mother, were used to being independent. Chast was ambivalent about her feelings for them and busy with her life with a family and career in Connecticut. Visiting Brooklyn each week, she felt both burdened and guilty for feeling like they were a burden. This is a relentlessly honest view of what it's like to care for aging parents, especially when there have been no conversations or plans about what to do ahead of time.
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LibraryThing member horomnizon
I think the graphic novel is a great way to do a memoir - especially a somewhat humorous one. Here, Chast is very honest about her feelings throughout the last several years of her parents' lives. Granted, her parents were, perhaps, not a completely typical couple, but the worries running through her mind, dealing with them seem quite universal.

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".
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LibraryThing member ritaer
The tensions and struggle of dealing with aging and dying parents. Told in cartoon form.
LibraryThing member bobbieharv
She's my favorite cartoonist and now my favorite memoir writer. It still amazes me how much the graphic novel form can convey about feelings, both the author and the subjects, in this case her aging parents. Poignant, honest, captivating, mesmerizing.

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.… (more)



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