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

‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ by Roz Chast   a graphic memoir   (2014) –  228 pages


Can you imagine a graphic memoir that contains cartoon pictures of the writer’s aged parents just after they have died?  There are a whole series of pictures here of the author’s mother as she goes through the last stages before death.  Yes, the decline and ultimate death of one’s aging parents which is the subject of this book is unpleasant.  It is a natural part of life.

In this graphic memoir Roz Chast gives an honest account of her parents’ final days told from the perspective of a usually caring but sometimes exasperated daughter.

Both parents are in their nineties.  The two parents take different routes to their final destination.  He is prone to forgetting things, a touch of senile dementia which steadily increases.  The mother has mainly physical symptoms like high blood pressure, arthritis, and digestive ailments.  The mother has been and still is a demanding person, and the daughter still has unresolved issues with her from childhood.

The financial considerations are covered here too as she sees her parents’ life savings evaporate with the huge costs of assisted living.  Chast makes no attempt to prettify the whole aging and death process.   She throws in her own mixed feelings about her parents and their situation.  This openness about the subject of parental decline and death that has been shrouded in secrecy is refreshing.


The visuals really drove this story home for me.  As well as the cartoons which reminded me of Jules Feiffer in their loose style, Chast includes actual photographs from her childhood of her parents and herself.   In one ten-page section she shows us photographs of all the objects and clutter in her parents’ last home after they moved into assisted living.  Nearly all of it will be thrown away.

 “I began the massive, deeply weird, and heartbreaking job of going through my parents’ possessions – almost fifty years’ worth, crammed into four rooms.  If I wanted mementos, it was now or never.”

 The book even deals with what to do with the urns that contain her parents’ ash remains, a thorny problem.

In my own case, I was one of those offspring that left the immediate area where my parents lived, so I did not have to deal with all these aging parents’ problems.  I had a brother and sister-in-law that handled all of that for me.  ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?’ gave me a good idea of what it must have been like for them.


7 responses to this post.

  1. I have a feeling that this is a book best tackled after the event. In hindsight.


    • Hi Lisa,
      You may be right about that, but it probably is helpful for people to know that exasperation and ambivalent feelings on the part of the children are also part of the process.


  2. Tony, this looks wonderful, and I know it’s up for a National Book Award. I went through all that crap: my mother was put in an assisted living facility when she was too old and sick for it; and she really wanted round-the-clock care at her home (which she could have afforded, but was denied her). It was a sad decline into a nursing home. You do find out about the care AFTER the mistakes are made. I ended up on the phone with the University of Minnesota (some foundation on aging).

    I must read this.


    • Hi Kat,
      Yes, this book is called a graphic memoir instead of a graphic novel because it probably is very close to the real situation, but the art work and photography are a real bonus.
      Isn’t that true of many things, we find out about them AFTER the mistakes have been made.


  3. Tony, your review is spot on. I am just approaching this process with my parents and found this book both insightful and liberating. See my review on my blog. http://www.bookbarmy.com/category/non-fiction/


    • Hi Deborah,
      I read your excellent review of ‘Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant’. Very well done. It’s great to remember that Roz Chast is a New Yorker cartoonist, because their cartoons are the most insightful and humorous.


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