Keep­ing death in view

MadeleineKings­ley likes a sweet and sour con­fec­tion. DavidHer­man praises Mo­di­ano

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

ROZ CHAST’S comic book mem­oir is not ex­actly the per­fect Golden Wed­ding gift. Can’t We Talk About Some­thing More Pleasa n t ? i s in­deed an ir­re­sistible and in­ti­mate ac­count of her age­ing par­ents — im­mi­grant teach­ers and self-styled soul-mates of Brook­lyn. But it spares nei­ther warts nor blushes; this tale of twi­light years makes you want to put your foot in the door­way of time.

Ge­orge and El­iz­a­beth Chast are de­picted down to ev­ery last cat­a­strophic ac­tion (his), volcanic ex­plo­sion of rage (hers) and seven decades of grimy, ran­dom, do­mes­tic clut­ter (theirs). W h a t s h o u l d daugh­ter R o z d o with old S c h i c k S h a v - ers (one

car­toon­ist Roz Chast ( held to­gether with an­cient tape) and so many other tchatchkes?

This is a beau­ti­ful book to browse and own, exquisitely drawn, as you might ex­pect of this prizewin­ning New Yorker car­toon­ist. And Chast’s pen could breathe life into a hos­pi­tal gur­ney (it does) and, just to add verisimil­i­tude, her folks are also im­mor­talised in Mom’s po­ems, and some charm­ing old mono­chrome pho­tos, dropped in among the colour-washed frames.

A happy fam­ily smiles from the pages, be­ly­ing Chast’s bru­tally hon­est ac­count of her par­ents’ de­scent into nona­ge­nar­ian senes­cence, their stub­born re­fusal to make any care pro­vi­sion what­ever, their fierce de­nial of death as any­thing but op­tional.

Who doesn’t want to live on, af­ter death, in the mem­ory of loved ones? We rather hope, though, that rec­ol­lec­tion will be kind, high­light­ing our

of­fers some beau­ti­fully funny and poignant pic­tures in her mem­oir virtues and con­sign­ing foibles to the shad­ows. Speak­ing if not ill, then plain, is the taboo that Roz Chast smashes here, just as her artis­tic Bri­tish coun­ter­part Ray­mond Briggs, did when he shocked fans of The (mag­i­cal) Snow­man, with his nu­clear holo­caust car­toon clas­sic, Where the Wind Blows.

Chast, like Briggs, re­draws our ex­pec­ta­tions of what comic art should do. There’s no pret­ty­ing up her own role as On­lyDaugh­ter­hopin­ga­gain­sthopethat both par­ents will slip away in their sleep be­fore the old-age home, the colostomy bag, catheter and de­men­tia claim them.

It’s not to be, and Chast, a work­ing mother of two, must not only wit­ness their heart­break­ing de­cline, but rush in from Con­necti­cut by night, the res­cuer in­manya mood­melt­dow­nand­mount­ing cri­sis. In­fu­ri­ated by the time she must de­vote to them, she is an­guished and full of dread when far away. She lies awake, wor­ry­ing that their money, so re­luc­tantly sub­mit­ted to her charge, will run out and then some. False alarms, falls and failed ap­point­ments with the Grim Reaper abound.

Al­ways a Daddy’s girl, Chast has a far more com­plex and awk­ward re­la­tion­ship with Mom. There’s a def­i­nite edge to El­iz­a­beth’s oft-re­peated tale of their friends, the Mell­mans, whose daugh­ter al­legedly made off with the funds they’d made over, then de­posited them in some Trail’s End home and splurged on a draw­er­ful of cash­mere sweaters.

The no­tion that lit­tle Roz is now a suc­cess­ful woman of in­de­pen­dent means sim­ply doesn’t reg­is­ter. Her book, wickedly af­fec­tion­ate and af­fec­tion­ately wicked, is des­tined, like the Chasts them­selves, for pic­turesque longevity.

Madeleine Kings­ley is a free­lance re­viewer

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