Going into Town
Roz Chast is the beloved cartoonist from The New Yorker, whose work has graced its pages since 1978 when she submitted her first cartoon at the age of 23. Her art remains unlike anything else, capturing modern life in often amusing moments. In her characters we can see ourselves and those closest to us, and can relate to the anxieties of daily life. The handwritten observations alongside each image, often underlined or capped, add a personal touch to the emotional authenticity.
Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant? published a few years back, was the moving story of Chast’s parents’ decline and death, and was shortlisted for the National Book Award. Her latest book, Going into Town, is a much lighter offering. It’s a guide to New York for someone unschooled in the practicalities of the city – though she’s quick to explain it’s not a definitive guidebook or an insider’s guide with the hippest clubs, nor is it a history book.
Going into Town is the expanded version of a booklet Chast made for her then daughter, Nina (now Pete), who was moving to New York for the first time. She didn’t know what a “block” was and called fire escapes “West Side Story things”, so it was time for some education. Chast offers practical details, such as how to navigate the subway, streets and avenues – “no one calls it ‘Avenue of the Americas’, because GIVE ME A BREAK.”
Sometimes I question publishers turning something that worked in its original form into a book. This can happen with magazine articles or profiles – when you see the expanded book version, it doesn’t quite work. I did have a sense of that here, and while I enjoyed the book, it also felt drawn out, like it would have been better in its original, more succinct form. At the same time, this is an unashamedly personal interpretation of New York and there’s beauty to be found.
What’s most heartwarming are Chast’s whimsical, finely made observations. She shares her love of the city warts and all: the monstrous waterbugs, giant rats, the sidewalk like a “thick shell covering a vast honeycomb of pipes and tunnels”. Then there are the pleasures of riding the bus, finding French toast at 4am in all-night diners, and the many varied “Stores of Mystery”. Above all, she shares the joys of walking, and really observing her surrounds. Chast is our unpretentious New York flâneur. WZ
Bloomsbury, 176pp, $36.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 11, 2017 as "Roz Chast, Going into Town". Subscribe here.