Discussion Questions: Big Read

  1. There is a distinct sense of place throughout Chast’s memoir, beginning with a description of her parents’ Brooklyn neighborhood (p. 12), followed by a description of the interior of her parents’ apartment and the homes to which they eventually have to move. How does Chast depict each place? Did some of the details surprise you? To what degree does each place of residence influence or magnify each character’s personality and relationships? Do you think your place of residence influences you?
  2. Chast is known, among other things, for her wry, poignant, and often absurdist portrayals of existential questions and anxieties, some of which she illustrates in what she calls “The Wheel of Doom” (p. 29). To what extent do you think Chast’s—and her parents’—anxieties drive the tone and direction of the book as it unfolds? Do you or members of your family share any of their particular anxieties?
  3. Are you familiar with assisted living? If so, is your perception and/or experience with it similar to Chast’s, or do you share George and Elizabeth’s perception of it (p. 95)?
  4. Chast uses humor to delve into an often dark and distressing subject. How would you describe her style of humor? In what ways does her use of humor affect how you experience and relate to the story?
  5. In the section titled “The Old Apartment” (p. 105), Chast describes the accumulated objects that her parents hoarded for decades and left behind. Why do you think she decides to “rescue” the items that she depicts on p. 119? Do you or your family possess objects that have never been thrown away? What are the stories behind these objects and why do you think they remain?
  6. Chast chronicles the complicated relationships she had with her parents with disarming honesty and unflinching candor. In what ways did her relationship with each of her parents differ? Did these differences affect how she related to them at the end of their lives? Do you think Chast’s feelings toward her parents evolved or changed in some way over the course of writing the book? Did yours change over the course of reading it?
  7. Did you find the portrayal of Chast’s parents sympathetic? Relatable? Do you think it would change your reading of the book—and your perception of these characters—if they were fictional?
  8. Chast tells us that her parents weren’t able to meaningfully connect with other residents at the assisted living facility in part because they had spent so much time alone with one another, isolated from the world at large (p. 131). Do you know others like this? What are some of the reasons that people may feel isolated in today’s society? Do you think the experience of aging will be the same for future generations?
  9. It’s not uncommon for the roles of parent and child to reverse as we age, i.e., our parents take care of us in our younger years; we take care of them in their senior years. This transition, however, is rarely simple or seamless, as Chast illustrates on p. 146. How would you describe that transition in this story? Have you experienced or witnessed a similar transition in your own life? If so, how does it compare to Chast’s experience?
  10. Aging for some can be a complicated, expensive, unpredictable, drawn-out journey. In retrospect, what preparations could Chast and her parents have taken to lessen the burdens that they encountered? Has reading this memoir changed your thinking about your own end-of-life care or that of your parent(s)? How much have you planned for, or talked about, aging in your family?
  11. In the last section of the memoir, just before the epilogue, Chast shifts from comic-style drawings to crosshatched, realistic sketches of her mother’s last moments (p. 211). Why do you think Chast chose to mark these moments in a different drawing style?
  12. Chast tells her story in graphic memoir form, using handwritten (as opposed to printed) words, as well as visuals such as color and gray cartoons, photographs, and pencil sketches. Why do you think Chast included each element? Would your impression of the book be different if it did not have some or all of these visual elements?
  13. It is often said that the act of writing, particularly a memoir, is an act of discovery. What might Chast have discovered about herself in writing this book?