Book Review: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Genre: Graphic Novel, Memoir, Humor
Literary Awards: National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography (2014), Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards Nominee for Best Reality-Based Work (2015), National Book Award Finalist for Nonfiction (2014),Kirkus Prize for Nonfiction (2014)
ISBN 1608198065
228 pages
Goodreads: click here 
Book Depository: click here

Reading memoirs tend to feel like traveling through thick fog on a sunny day; the journey through makes one a bit lost, as if navigating through past time not of one’s own, and when the fog clears, it’s not sure whether the sunny skies above were the same as those before journeying through it.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a memoir not of Chast’s own, but those of her aging parents, woven with her mixed feelings towards caring for them, as well as bits and pieces of Chast’s teenage years, which explains the way she feels the way she feels for her parents, especially her mother. It brings the reader along through the excruciating caring process of two elderly parents who can’t seem to live without one another, the constant emotional struggles the author faces between caring for her parents as would a good daughter, and leaving them alone because she has to have her own space and also because of long-held emotional knots which has not yet been untied.

The process was painful, but not heart wrenchingly so, perhaps due to Chast’s humorous portrayal of serious events. Elizabeth’s refusal to seek professional medical treatment were just another instance of “a blast from Chast”, while George’s anxieties were described as never-ending-blabbering-nobody-except-Chast’s-daughter-listens-to. In addition to Chast’s comedic style, memoirs in graphic novel format can seem to take the seriousness away from a traditional memoir, especially for those who have not read one in such a format (a.k.a. me).

“How could a serious memoir be delivered in such a format? It doesn’t make sense. It’s not going to work out.”, said past me. “Shut up”, says present me.

The memoir worked out in ways a traditional novel styled memoir would not. Photographs of the unkempt Chast apartment, and material items the family owned and treasured, were slotted into chapters, showcasing silently how advanced age has transformed the family and their relationship with each other. Sketches of Chast’s dying mother near the end of the book were simply haunting. It sucked the dominance of a once “peasant built” woman to nothing more than a sickly, crumpled one on the hospital bed. The realistic impact (or simply, oomph) the memoir has ‘taken away’ due to its unconventional style, was punched back tenfolds through these little inserts of realism in an otherwise colorful graphic novel.

The memoir served as a timely wakeup call, in not only treasuring one’s existing relations with one’s family, but also provided an alternate perspective into familial relations. Not everyone has a happy, the-world-is-beautiful relationship with their parents, and that’s okay. It tells you that there will sometimes be grudges held for words not spoken, and feelings not expressed (at least in ways one would normally expect), and how sometimes these will inevitably be lifetime regrets and longings. Loss is afterall a form of letting-go, of things that were, and things that will not come to be.

Rating: 4/5 stars

Have you read the book? Tell me about it, I’d love to know your opinions. 

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