all the different ways we have to tell the story of our lives: Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?/Roz Chast

Monday, February 2, 2015

I know I was supposed to be watching the Super Bowl, gauging the plumpedness of those laced-up game balls, but I, beneath my furry blanket on the long stretch of the couch, could not take my eyes from Roz Chast's bestselling, award-winning graphic memoir, Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Like Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Chast's illustrated story of her parents' later years is devastating and also beautiful and finally heart crunching. An only child of two people who have lived inseparably for years, Chast finds herself challenged by the encroachment of their needs and by the intensifying quirks of her parents' respective personalities. The domineering, almost bullying mother. The talks-too-much-and-can't-fix-a-thing-and-has-a-holy-soul father. They live in a four-room Brooklyn apartment crowded by lifelong detritus. They live increasingly afraid of stepping outside. They rely on Roz, but Roz is hardly enough. And when they finally agree to move into an expensive assisted-living facility, things don't get a whole lot easier.

But like Gary Shteyngart's Little Failure, the memoir we'll be unpacking in tomorrow's English 135 at Penn, Chast doesn't allow her confusion to rise to clanging bitterness. Doesn't allow her own disappointment, weariness, frustration, beleaguered condition to transmute into hateful spite. Doesn't tell her story to trump or exploit. She is just telling it as it was—the good she can remember, the empathy she feels, the anger that flashes, the hurt places in between the loved places, the ambiguity she will always feel about her mother and the love she'll always feel for her dad.

It's not a tirade, in other words. It's an archeological dig.

It's here, it's gorgeous, it proves (again, like Edward Hirsch's Gabriel proves, again) how many different ways there are to tell the stories of our lives.


Katrina said...

Beth, I, too, read this in one sitting. And then immediately ordered more, for friends who are living various painfully close versions of this same tale. Such a brave and beautiful book. Such a perfect review.

Robin Pulver said...

I just bought this book. Can't wait to read it. Your review is wonderful. Love "it's an archaeological dig."

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