Monday, November 11, 2013

Special Exits: Book Review

Published September 2010
by Fantagraphic Books.
After seeing Special Exits on several lists for outstanding graphic novels, I decided to see how the author / illustrator Joyce Farmer tackled the subject of the growing frailty of her father and step-mother.

Farmer's graphic novel is semi-biographical, detailing the day-to-day challenges that a mature couple--Lars and Rachel--face as they experience greater and greater health challenges while living in their South Los Angeles home.  

Part of the novel's historical context includes Lars and Rachel having to manage during the 1992 Rodney King riots that took place in their neighborhood and surrounding area. 

Rachel's health declines first. She has trouble with her vision, her memory, and her mobility. She ends up living on the couch in the living room. Lars does his best to care for her, but he starts to wear down emotionally and physically. And Lars has some serious health problems himself that he masks for the majority of the novel.

Lars' daughter, Laura, offers a great deal of support. However, it's never quite enough since the parents and the adult child don't all live together. Also Laura and her husband have other responsibilities. The novel also shows how difficult it is to acquire senior services and how problematic nursing home care can be. 

I have read a number of books about caregiving, but the graphic novel format gives an additional intimacy and immediacy to the challenges of this time of life. Farmer depicts the clutter piling up in Lars' and Rachel's home, the sponge baths Rachel receives, the healthy food and the unhealthy food available in their home, the neighbors who offer what help they can, Rachel's frequent cries for help, the consequences of falls, and so forth.

Yes, the book depicts the harsh realities of late life. But Farmer also includes flashbacks to the couple's younger years. And Farmer humanizes them by showing their tenderness for each other and their treasures stored in the house.  Laura, the adult child in the graphic novel, also shows great tenderness towards Lars and Rachel. 

Farmer brings immense experience as a graphic novelist. She was a pioneer of the adult comic book genre who was a contemporary and feminist counter-point to Robert Crumb.  The drawings in this graphic novel are black and white with no color added.  The result? The panels are gritty, realistic, and convey emotion. These are not slick, highly stylized images of the imagination. They are based on experience and memory of her five years spent as caregiver for her father and step-mother.  

If you want to thumb through the book (virtually), check out this video preview from the publisher.



  1. I will check this sounds very interesting. Thank you for the tip.

    b+(Retire In Style Blog)

  2. This is one of my favorite books - definitely my favorite graphic book. Lars and Rachel reminded me of my in-laws and Laura's situation reminded me of my husband and sister-in-law. I read it a few years ago and still think about it.