Keeping death in view
MadeleineKingsley likes a sweet and sour confection. DavidHerman praises Modiano
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