Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? – by Roz Chast – independent book review – Graphic Novel

It turns out cartoon illustration is a surprisingly powerful way to describe end-of-life decisions. But still sobering content to wade through. Awarded four stars on Goodreads. National Book Award Finalist.

pleasantUsing her own very creative cartoons and straightforward first-person account, author and illustrator Roz Chast (staff cartoonist at The New Yorker Magazine) recounts the story of her parents’ slow decline and the growing role of caretaker she is forced to assume as their only child. Though sprinkled with lots of humor, for me, this was nevertheless a sad read.

At the beginning, her parents are self-sufficient and highly functioning (if a tad co-dependent), living independently in the same apartment in Brooklyn they have occupied for decades. The book then walks us through the end-of-life decisions so many of us will face. Not just with our parents but eventually for ourselves. How do you convince loved ones to face what’s ahead? When is it the right time to leave one’s own home? What happens to all years of accumulated stuff? How does one find a reasonable place where more assistance is available. And then what happens when EVEN MORE assistance becomes necessary? Then, when health begins to decline or dementia sets in, how much treatment is reasonable? And what kinds of medical risks should you expose someone in their 90s to? And Chast must face each question, while living several hours away from her parents and having her own career and family to juggle.

Chast did not have close relationships with either parent and a particularly contentious one with her mother. Yet another layer. She honestly shares the psychological baggage that comes with her role as parental caretaker. It’s a mix of feelings — understandable concern, perpetual annoyance, and deep resentment.

End-of-life care in the United States can be an expensive proposition and Chast is clear about her mounting financial concerns as her parents linger over years. It’s probably clear by now why I found so many aspects of the book chilling. A big part of me, like Chast’s parents, kept thinking “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?”

It’s is a quick read, only 230-ish pages, and filled with illustrations. So just a couple of hours. And a good introduction to begin understanding the complexities of aging.


  1. Sounds similar to what I’ve been going through with my mother. I’m rolling with it much better now than I was in the first two months. My mother was a good planner for her ‘end of life’. Although she has lived a frugal life in later years, she invested her money well during her working years. The recession left her in poverty though, but she adjusted well. Just months ago, before she was hospitalized, she prepaid her funeral expenses with a life insurance policy that she turned over to the funeral home. Much to our surprise, she chose to be cremated, so there will be money left over for incidentals like a reception after the funeral.

    Now that she has a diagnosis, a prognosis, and has chosen not to have chemo and radiation, she’s living her last months in a far better nursing facility I ever thought she’d be in, and she’d set herself up so that none of us would need to pay for that either.

    The emerging health issues, doctor appointments, tests, waiting for results, etc. in the early stages are daunting though. And the very idea that one would choose not to have treatment was very difficult for the doctors. It’s as if they are sales people who use fear tactics to get you to “buy”. It certainly seemed that way to me, but I know they have to cover themselves by offering everything modern medicine has to offer.

    As a family, we’ve read mom’s will already, and have made certain that her wishes are clear. We’ve been able to begin the process of dissolving her meager assets. Her car went to her youngest granddaughter; her diamonds and cedar hope chest went to me. Her one-bedroom apartment is full of furniture that other grandchildren have chosen and already removed. Clothing has already gone to Goodwill, and per her wishes, an organization called Mission of Deeds will come and take most of the other furniture. 1-800-Junk is also on her list of recipients, when it comes down to it.

    Now, what to do with the boxes and boxes, and drawers and drawers filled with every greeting card she ever received? Something creative, I’m dreaming. I want to honor the effort she made to keep them. Ideas have gone the gambit – from bringing them in to read to her at the nursing facility, to creating a work of art to honor her at her funeral. Maybe both!

    Thanks for stirring the pot on this subject. I’ve learned soooo much. Even though it is not nearly as joyous as a wedding, and awkward as it is, it’s really something that is best planned for!


    1. Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. Your mom is a model of taking responsibility and it’s wonderful how much her efforts are appreciated by her loved ones.


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