Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

Can't we talk about something more pleasant

Read February 2016
Recommended for anyone with aging parents.
 ★    ★    ★   ★

 Roz Chast you are here

Don’t be misled; cartoons don’t make for easy reading. Roz Chast takes an unflinching look at her interactions with her aging parents in their very, very ‘golden years,’ and discovers there’s a lot that makes everyone uncomfortable. You know what happens? We get old. We get frail. And somehow, we’ve all forgotten this, from the 90 year-olds who insist on living alone, to the baby boomers who insist on believing their parents are eternal, to my own dear little latchkey generation who doesn’t really know what old people are even like (I have no clue what millennials think; but maybe, for the first time in generations, middle class Americans are returning to the multi-generational household, so they’ll become more aware than all of us).

As a nurse, this was an uncomfortable read, as it brought back so many memories of witnessing and trying to assist families in dealing with drastic life changes. On a personal level, it brought me back to the time where my great-aunt was insistent on living alone in her apartment, subsisting on cold-meat sandwiches and washing out her Depends, while we were powerless to change her behavior. We can’t all be Betty White, Clint Eastwood or Jane Fonda, growing into our 70s and 80s in silver-haired, politically active glory, jetting about the country and starting new projects.

Roz Chast silver hair

At any rate, Chast has written a moving, terrible book about the slow decline of her Roz Chast wheel of doomparents, with a father who has dementia and an aggressive mother who denies change, to Chast’s own attempts to appease them even as she tries to help them. She skips back and forth between the present and the past, with anecdotes from her childhood providing insight into Chast’s perception of her parents. A three page story about her mother’s anger issues and overconfidence sets the stage for later hesitancy. But this isn’t funny; there’s nothing comical about the oversized head shot of mom yelling at Chast and her father. The pictures are accurate, and perhaps the cartoon format cushions the blow of the emotion. Or perhaps it makes it more real, because emotion isn’t lost in a slew of purple prose. Concepts and stories are cleverly arranged, not just in strip format. The Wheel of Doom reminds me a great deal of my own anxiety-ridden mother who is always offering advice on the ways the world can harm.

Roz Chast stay where I am

As a hospital nurse, I absolutely recognize the sad story of a slow decline. Many elderly people are living precariously in their homes and apartments, one small incident from disaster. It becomes particularly challenging as some people slide down a slope of forgetfulness, progressing from losing keys and driving routes to forgetting about stoves and paying bills. They eke along in a precarious existence until a fall, or a wrong turn that confuses them, or any number of things that brings official attention. I don’t know what the solution is, but part of me suspects it will be found in the return to multiple generations living together. For me, because of the familiarity with the tale, I didn’t find it a particularly enjoyable read. To add to the sadness, Chast’s parents never particularly gained insight in their condition or reconnected with their daughter.

Chast does offer an absolutely clever but incompletely conceived conception of “palliative” care that I could 100% get behind, ‘Extreme Palliative Care’:


Yet another book that destroys the rating system. While I can’t say that I ‘liked’ it, it was extremely well done, and highlights many of the issues we have coping with aging and caring for aging parents. I quite recommend it, if you want to have some idea of what it means to take care of frail, fiercely independent people.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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8 Responses to Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

  1. fromcouchtomoon says:

    “a moving, terrible book” lol, I suppose it couldn’t possibly be any other way. I may need to get this book.

    • thebookgator says:

      Chast is pretty unflinching, and it is clear she carries/d a lot of issues around her mother. Of course, all of it comes back to her as she’s dealing with her decline and witnessing her death. It’s pretty powerful.

  2. neotiamat says:

    This hits home on entirely too many levels, all of them painful. Blessedly, my grandparents were all pretty active until almost the end (my grandfather was, I believe, made of good quality Soviet steel, fought the Nazis and kept being a handyman till his death). But then came the final cancers, and six months of miserable decline that makes Extreme Palliative Care look enticing (and converted my entire family into pro-assisted-suicide believers). On the other hand, one of our family friends has been caring for her Alzheimers-afflicted mother for years now, and while her mother is apparently happy enough, the burden on our friend is absolutely vicious. Just the emotional trauma… It’s a serious factor in driving her into alcoholism.

    I don’t know what I think here. I think the multi-generational household approach may be a good idea, but only if you have someone to share the burden with. Being a single mother is hard, so is being a single caregiver for the elderly.

    Speaking as someone who is a Millennial, I do think that the stigma against multi-generational households has died down a bit. Disclosure: I live with my parents even though I’m in my late 20s, because there is simply no other way that I can live in this city, pay off student loans, and afford to travel for research on a grad student stipend (the numbers physically do not add up). Most of my friends and fellow grad-students are pretty understanding about the situation, and not a few have been in the same boat. Plus there’s a cultural thing — I’m of Russian background, where having three generations to an apartment is totally normal (…because the Soviets sucked at building housing stock, but I digress).

    *Older* people, on the other hand, tend to go “really?” at it. I had a professor (who is, without a doubt, an asshole, but still indicative) say that if he’d known I was living with my folks earlier, he would’ve teased me more about it. And the Hollywood/Pop Culture still basically assumes that if you haven’t completely atomized yourself by age 18, you are a failure as a human being.

    It’s… frustrating.

    • thebookgator says:

      Yes, I agree–hits home on too many levels. I think cancer pain in the U.S. can be relatively well managed, and many people understand the value of medicating it. The trouble is with the nebulous, declining, waxing-and-waning symptoms, like early dementia, where a parent requires fairly consistent monitoring, and they are as reluctant to accept help as children may be to provide it (or do at the expense of careers and lives?)

      Thank you for your full disclosure, Neotiamat. Personally, I think white middle class America has it wrong, and your ‘cultural thing’ is where it needs to head. I’m generalizing, but it is rare I care for a Hmong family who is not at the hospital supporting an elderly family member, and many African-American families are the same way. Ditto Latino families, if they have any family in the area. And I think about how it is obvious to me as a nurse when people are nearing the end of their lives, and how family insists on ignoring it and pretending nothing is different. “Grandma! You’ll feel better tomorrow! We’ll see you next Sunday at our visit.” Given the cost of nursing homes/assisted living (upwards of $3500 a month), I hope it will encourage people to start reconsidering family connections.

      I actually had a twenty-some year old tell me he couldn’t move in with his dying father, “because I have a toddler at home.” I thought that was one of the saddest things I’ve heard in months.

  3. Melora says:

    Definitely one where you have to decide whether to rate according to how well it is done or how much you “enjoyed” it. My parents are “aging” and my mom, particularly, is dealing with cognitive issues, and I found it a tough book, but thought it was well done and, to some extent, helpful to me. I appreciated that her art and humor leavened the difficult topic a bit without going too far (assuming one appreciates a bit of gallows humor) in treating painful issues lightly.

    • thebookgator says:

      I’m glad it resonated so well with you and you found it helpful. I think Chast was shockingly honest. I think it did for many people, judging by the reviews. It resonated a little too much for me, so I didn’t see the humor as clearly. 🙂

  4. Melora says:

    (And I’m glad you thought it was well done! Given your professional background, I was particularly interested in what you would think of it.)

  5. Pingback: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier | book reviews forevermore

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