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Growing Old in a Graphic Novel: A Review of “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant”?

by Rena Lenchitz ‘23 

Many of us are fortunate enough to have parents and guardians who continue to take care of us, even during our college years. However, there comes a very distinct point in time where a shift — or rather, a role reversal — is set in place. As humans come face-to-face with their ever-encroaching mortality, families and support networks adjust, often facing new challenges and hardships as our loved ones grow old. 

In a twist on the traditional conventions of genre, Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, gives us both a bittersweet and lighthearted glimpse into her experience of caring for her aging parents. Chast’s masterful craft as a graphic artist revolutionizes her story, providing readers with a narrative that is much more digestible than a string of words on a page. As I parsed through the work, I was very much struck by its unique format; I found myself marveling at the choice to use a graphic novel, a genre conventionally associated with a younger readership, to be telling the story of her parent’s increasingly old age. Chast herself took care of her parents in her mid-adulthood; I was left wondering how this choice broadens the scope of her intended audience. 

The work descriptively details the last few glorious, as well as gutting, years of Chast’s parents’ life. Chast is extremely transparent with her readers; she lets us see and experience everything with pictures of her parent’s hoarded belongings, as well as excerpts of her mother’s poetry. While much of the plot centered around the events which gradually contributed to her parents’ ultimate death, I was still clued in to much of Chast’s own mental state. Bearing not only the physical and emotional burden, but the financial obligation of bills, long-term facility costs, and assisted living help, Chast faces a whole new set of moral dilemmas and difficult executive decisions. With her parents’ lives in her hands, she finds her head spinning in an overwhelming whirlwind of thoughts and emotions.  Incredibly detailed drawings matched with witty and well-timed comedic relief cannot begin to express the exhilarating and captivating narrative that is Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? While the phenomenon of growing old can be terrifying and tantalizing, we mustn’t forget how blessed we are to experience the world through all our senses; Roz Chast’s visual representations give great life to the experience of living for the very last time.

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