Monday, May 26, 2014

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? — A Review

Guest post by Baloo:

I've always enjoyed the cartoons in the New Yorker, and of course I have my favorites — Charles Barsotti and Charles Addams spring to mind. The former because I sort of draw like him, and the latter because I actually wrote some gags for him back in the old days. But of the current cartoonists there, there's no contest. Roz Chast is by far my favorite of the whole group. And it's not because I draw like her. I could never imitate her style. And it's certainly not that I write gags for her. I don't think anybody could write gags for her. Her humor style is unique.

As a matter of fact, as a cartoonist, one of my greatest pleasures is enjoying the work of cartoonists who are nothing like me, with totally different styles of drawing and writing, and Roz Chast certainly qualifies there. And as a person, she seems to be about as different from me as it's possible to be and still be an American cartoonist. She's a New Yorker, I'm a Midwesterner. She's Jewish, I'm a Redneck. And of course there's male and female. Speaking of that latter, the femininity of her work is palpable, both in content and execution. She has a female sensitivity to interpersonal relationships that informs a great deal of her work. Not that you'd mistake her work for that of any other female cartoonist, though.

This is about her latest book, Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?: A Memoir. It's the story of the last few years of her aging parents' lives, with flashbacks, and her coping with their deterioration and, finally, their deaths. That sounds like a downer, and, frankly, I expected it to be depressing. But no, it's remarkably upbeat in tone, although she includes the most excruciating incidents. If you've had to deal with anything like it, or will in the future, this is a pretty wonderful book to carry around in your memory.

The book oddly reminds me of Asimov's multivolume autobiography, I suppose because the Jewishness of it all is clearly there, but not at all overemphasized or made a point of. Indeed, though her parents were almost perfect Jewish stereotypes, at the same time they seem nevertheless universal. Her writing and drawing styles merge perfectly in this, and you can empathize with her throughout. Indeed, while she doesn't spare herself, revealing the good things and the bad, her uncharitable reactions as well as her charitable ones, she ultimately comes across as a hell of a nice person you'd like to know. She exposes her self-doubts and worries in such a way, again, that you can completely empathize with her. Kind of like a nice, sane, version of Woody Allen.

As an aside, she has a wonderful lettering style, which is totally legible, while looking like it shouldn't be. That is, it looks casually goofy (much like her drawing), but reads as well as the finest font. This is a book you'll want to buy and keep.

Finally, a word on her style. There are workmanlike cartoonists, whose drawing is just right for communicating the gags, or stories. And there are a few cartoonists, like Roz, whose drawing is a joy to look at no matter what the content is. Go take a look at her website HERE any you'll see what I mean. Better yet, take a look at this Google image search HERE and you'll see odd and ends of her drawings. Makes me proud to be in the same profession.

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