Starting the New Year Going Into Town with Roz Chast

After Roz Chast entertained me with her clever graphic novel about her aging parents in “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant,” I couldn’t wait for her next installment of graphic humor, but her Going Into Town, a Love Letter to New York had me thinking I should carry the book with me the next time I visit the city. Not only are the illustrations and text hilarious, the chapter on how to use the subway could be very useful for my directionally clueless nature.

With her signature New Yorker comic strip art and her East Coast conversational style, Chast takes the reader from a basic layout of Manhattan, through “stuff to do…food…apartments” and all the practical basics for living, surviving, accessing Manhattan.  As promised, this is not a guide for tourists (although some might find it helpful) but an insider’s manual – “some maps, some tips…Nothing too overwhelming” created for her daughter, a freshman in college in Manhattan.  

Lately, I’ve been reading historic tomes full of man’s inhumanity to man, and it’s lovely to start the new year with a funny and optimistic view of one of my favorite cities. Might be a good new year’s resolution to read more like this.

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Cousin Joseph by Jules Feiffer

9781631490651_p0_v1_s192x300  From his illustrations for Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth to his comic strip in The Village Voice, Jules Feiffer has been artfully speaking out for a long time, but I did not realize he penned  his latest – Cousin Joseph – at the age of eighty-seven.  This graphic novel subliminally notes issues of anti-seminitsm and corrupt policemen – you may even laugh now and then at the satire – well, maybe smirk – at how close Feiffer gets to the truth.

With a Humphrey Bogart swagger, the key character, Detective Sam Hannigan, follows the noir film formula, and the story has the action and violence of noir style pulp fiction.  Is cousin Joseph his anti-conscience?

“The year is 1931. Det. Sam Hannigan is a proud American and a member of fictional Bay City’s finest. When he and his partner aren’t fighting crime or getting their “Red Squad” to suppress the local trade unions, he’s off to do the bidding of the mysterious Cousin Joseph, an unidentified bigwig who wants to rid Hollywood of what he considers anti-American propaganda films. Soon, Sam finds himself in over his head and on both sides of the law as he tries to keep track of the various forces at work against him. ”  Publishers Weekly

Sam has an epiphany – too late to save him – when he sees Uncle Joseph for who he really is, but it’s scary to think Uncle Joseph is still out there today, drawing in those who are not on guard.

Recently, a friend brought an old Classics Comics to a book discussion of “The Woman in White,” and many of us were nostalgic about the genre.  Comic books have morphed into graphic novels, with Feiffer’s illustrations and dialogue adding social and political commentary – a field he knows well.

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

9781608198061_p0_v13_s260x420We all die eventually, right?  And, with a little luck – or not, depending on our state of health – we may live to a very old age.  But most of us would prefer to be in denial about death, old age, debilitating illness, and any talk about the inevitable future. Roz Chast, cartoonist for The New Yorker, addresses these uncomfortable issues with grace and humor in her graphic novel/memoir – Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

If you have lived through the agonizing ritual of watching your elderly parents decline and die, Chast’s comments may offer some comfort when you realize you are not alone in your conflict of resentment vs caring.  Issues of her parents’ slow decline, their resistance to change and to any discussion about change, despite their increasing inability to manage ordinary tasks – are handled with poignant humor.  I laughed out loud at some of Chast’s punch lines, but also cringed a little at how close she had come to knowing how I had felt when dealing with my own 94 year old mother.  Could it be Chast has discovered some universal truth about aging daughters with elderly parents?

Whether or not you have experienced Chast’s story of watching her parents age well into their nineties and die, her story of human behavior and parent-child relationships has the notes of humor, nostalgia, guilt, and love easily relatable to anyone.  You may be crying at times – but mostly you will be laughing – maybe at yourself.  Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?  has that Dr. Seuss quality of delivering truth with a good dose of reality, as you smile through the drawings and words of wisdom.