Roz Chast Go­ing into Town

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

Roz Chast is the beloved car­toon­ist from

The New Yorker, whose work has graced its pages since 1978 when she submitted her first car­toon at the age of 23. Her art re­mains un­like any­thing else, cap­tur­ing mod­ern life in of­ten amus­ing mo­ments. In her char­ac­ters we can see our­selves and those clos­est to us, and can re­late to the anx­i­eties of daily life. The hand­writ­ten ob­ser­va­tions along­side each im­age, of­ten un­der­lined or capped, add a per­sonal touch to the emo­tional au­then­tic­ity.

Can’t We Talk about Some­thing More Pleas­ant? pub­lished a few years back, was the mov­ing story of Chast’s par­ents’ de­cline and death, and was short­listed for the Na­tional Book Award. Her lat­est book, Go­ing into Town, is a much lighter of­fer­ing. It’s a guide to New York for some­one un­schooled in the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of the city – though she’s quick to ex­plain it’s not a de­fin­i­tive guide­book or an in­sider’s guide with the hippest clubs, nor is it a his­tory book.

Go­ing into Town is the ex­panded ver­sion of a book­let Chast made for her then daugh­ter, Nina (now Pete), who was mov­ing to New York for the first time. She didn’t know what a “block” was and called fire es­capes “West Side Story things”, so it was time for some ed­u­ca­tion. Chast of­fers prac­ti­cal de­tails, such as how to nav­i­gate the sub­way, streets and av­enues – “no one calls it ‘Av­enue of the Amer­i­cas’, be­cause GIVE ME A BREAK.”

Some­times I ques­tion pub­lish­ers turn­ing some­thing that worked in its orig­i­nal form into a book. This can hap­pen with mag­a­zine ar­ti­cles or pro­files – when you see the ex­panded book ver­sion, it doesn’t quite work. I did have a sense of that here, and while I en­joyed the book, it also felt drawn out, like it would have been bet­ter in its orig­i­nal, more suc­cinct form. At the same time, this is an unashamedly per­sonal in­ter­pre­ta­tion of New York and there’s beauty to be found.

What’s most heart­warm­ing are Chast’s whim­si­cal, finely made ob­ser­va­tions. She shares her love of the city warts and all: the mon­strous wa­ter­bugs, gi­ant rats, the side­walk like a “thick shell cov­er­ing a vast hon­ey­comb of pipes and tun­nels”. Then there are the plea­sures of rid­ing the bus, find­ing French toast at 4am in all-night din­ers, and the many var­ied “Stores of Mys­tery”. Above all, she shares the joys of walk­ing, and re­ally ob­serv­ing her sur­rounds. Chast is our un­pre­ten­tious New York flâneur. WZ

Blooms­bury, 176pp, $36.99

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