WHERE would we be without Roz Chast? Protector of Shut-Ins, celebrator of Nerds, mouthpiece of the Armchair Expert! Her skinny, bespectacled, high-waisted characters have attained mythic prominence in cartoons like “Never the Experiment Always the Control,” “Cross-Country Knitting,” “Attack of the Young Professionals” and “The Ancient Tea Ceremony of Astoria,” which yellow happily on refrigerator doors, constant reminders that our eccentricities are the most interesting things about us.
Chast’s magnificent career-spanning collection, Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected, and Health-Inspected Cartoons, 1978-2006 (Bloomsbury: unpaged, $45), gathers nearly 30 years’ worth of her drawings from the New Yorker and elsewhere. Complete with an introduction by David Remnick, the book highlights her position as master of the deep interior, of the obsessions, the baseless fears and the weird proverbs to which we cling in our desperation not to leave the house. Her signature triptychs have a kind of absurdist gravitas: “Inconspicuous Consumption,” “The Sixty-Hour Gourmet” and “The Three Certainties,” the last of which explores death, taxes and Bobo the Clown. Meanwhile, connect-the-dot roadmaps and graphs like “Napquest” or “It Never Ends” (Chast’s own vision of the circle of life) give new meaning to the term “thinking outside the box.”
Chast is rarely political in any overt sense; she prefers the toaster oven to the ballot box. But every once in a while, she just can’t help herself, as in the pointed “Bush’s Foreign Policies” and “Afghanigap,” or the appropriately ironic “Thank-You Cards for Ralph Nader.”
On the planet Chast inhabits (a combination of Brooklyn and western Connecticut), there are no leaders and certainly no citizens. Rampant doubt prevents definite movement in any particular direction. But then, there’s no need to travel far. Chast’s world is lurking in each and every one of us.
-- Susan Salter Reynolds