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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2011
Joyce Farmer's skillfully and painstakingly-drawn epic is a true work of art in every sense. It tells the deceptively simple story of a middle aged woman coping with the advancing age, increasing health problems and inevitable death of her parents--something almost all of us have faced, or eventually will--quite the opposite of the popular notion of "comic books" being all about fantasy and escapism. It is rich with so much detail, in the dialogue and interactions, "between the lines" and hidden in the detailed, well-drawn illustrations. We learn of the lives of these people as they are slowly ending, and of the quietly heroic efforts of the daughter to keep a measure of dignity in their lives. The creator is a well known pioneer of feminist underground comics in the early 1970s and 80s, co-founder of a women-run publishing company, and it is a joy to be able to experience a true masterpiece created in her later career. This book should appeal to anyone who can appreciate a heartfelt story of real life, in particular those who may not think they are readers of "comic books."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on October 24, 2011
This graphic novel tells the story of the last years, and eventual death, of the elderly couple Lars and Rachel as they live out their declining years alone in their crumbling house in a shabby Los Angeles neighborhood. But they're not all alone: Lars's devoted daughter Laura attends them once a week, making arrangements to take this time off her business at some expense. She uncomplainingly--enthusiastically, even--cleans their house, bathes the bedridden old woman (her stepmother), does their shopping and cooking, takes their cat to the vet--basically keeps them going, and does so with affection and almost unbelievable good nature.

She has a husband, son, and grandchild who also play a small part in cheering the old people, as do a couple of nearby friends. There are tender conversations between the family members that let you know how much they have cared for each other over the years. The situation is somewhat dire: Rachel neglects her eye drops and becomes blind from glaucoma; Lars falls an injures himself, and the predictable horrors take place as the increasingly-helpless couple lives on semi-independently. They resist live-in caregivers, placing a greater burden on the uncomplaining family.

The graphic novel form does the story great justice. You can see the humor, exasperation, fear, and more ordinary emotions play on the characters' faces. Little side jokes give the story extra pleasure--the mean Siamese cat, which the old couple adores and which hates Laura. It's a wonderful medium; allowing the reader to also be the viewer, and bringing one closer to the characters and their very realistic drama. Farmer's illustrations look as if they want to tell a dark story, but not so. She captures facial expressions elegantly, both funny and tragic, letting the pictures themselves describe the scenes and emotions. Needless to say, this is the story many, many baby-boom aged readers are also right in the midst of coping with.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2011
Comics artist and writer Joyce Farmer came up in comics' indie scene in the 1970s. Her work back then was a direct response to the "old boys' club" atmosphere of the comics industry (some--perhaps many--would argue that it still exists, but that's neither here nor there). Now, with Special Exits, Farmer delivers a wonderful memoir about her aging parents and their aging process.

Lars and Rachel are elderly and living on their own in Los Angeles. Their loving marriage is warm, but as old age continues to wither away at their independence, Lars and Rachel are faced with tough choices ("We'll either have to make some big changes...or we have to make the best of it," Lars tells his wife while explaining why they shouldn't move into the retirement home, as she would like). Their stubborn independence often leads to heartbreaking moments, such as when Rachel faints and falls in the tub and her weakened husband is forced to help her out.

Lars' daughter witnesses the unfolding events as both mental and physical abilities decline, and she attempts to help as much as she can: sponge baths, visiting more and more often, cleaning, doing things around the house. It's a story all too familiar to anyone with aging parents, and you'll be instantly moved by Farmer's treatment of the humanity at the story's core. Farmer is "Laura" in the story, but the book is billed as a graphic memoir--this is her story too, and perhaps she has relegated herself to another name out of humility, to turn the story away from her and onto her father and stepmother.

Special Exits winds its way through almost 200 densely packed (but never overcrowded) pages. There is heft here. This is no quick read, nor is it an easy one. It's intentionally difficult at times, because it's unflinching. This story will resonate and it will haunt you. But it will also impress you. Farmer doesn't pull punches, but she doesn't go for self-pity either. Special Exits is a loving tribute to life's final moments, and the love that is left behind after we leave.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 18, 2011
For the past few years I have been looking for this story...a story about middle aged people dealing with aging parents. There was the movie Diminished Capactity starring Alan Alda that sounded like it might fulfill that need. That was just a silly comedy (and not all that funny.) Then Savages was released (with Phillip Seymore Hoffman) and that movie, while OK, just didn't come off as memorable to me. There was something missing from the movie.

Then I came across this book and bought it because the two previous movies failed to fulfill me. This is the story that I was looking for in those movies. And, while this is a "comic book," it is far more complete than other movies I have seen that have tried to tackle this subject matter.

I think this book should be required reading for anybody who has to deal with this situation. Even required reading for people who normally would never pick up a comic book or would write this off as fluff because it's a graphic novel rather than regular prose. This book is not fluff, and it will stick with me for a long time.

My only complaint (albiet MINOR!) about the story telling is that I wish the author would have included dates with the story and as the story progressed. Instead we get things like "a few weeks later" and such. It is hard to keep track of how much time passes from the start of the story until the end (it's four years...I only knew that from reading the description of the book.) The only date mentioned is the date of the 1993 Rodney King trial riots, as it factors in the story. At first seeing that date took me out of the story...I didn't realize it was being told in the 90's and I wondered if at first it was a flashback.

That's just a minor nitpick of a wonderful work of art. And this is a work of art and fine literature. Make this a REQUIRED PURCHASE!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 28, 2011
Anyone with aging parents will not only appreciate this wonderful book, but empathize with the author, who had to carefully describe, analyze, process, and visualize the very emotions and actions we all are either going through with our own parents, or will soon. It lays a healthy degree of both reality and humor upon an otherwise dismal landscape.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2011
Incredibly moving and beautiful story about caring for aging parents. People doing their best, falling short in some ways and surpassing what we could ever hope to give in others. Beautiful book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 12, 2013
The all illustrated format was an easy and fast read. There were moments of hillarity, but unfortunately all too real. I recognized similar situations with my elderly mother. It gave me insight into the aging process that occurs when elderly parents start taking their leave of life in the "long goodbye". I am happy to say that my attitude of frustration changed for the better after reading this book. I would definitely reccomend this book to anyone who is a caregiver to an elderly parent or grandparent.
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I understand that this graphic novel is a portrayal of the author’s own story told through Laura in her role as daughter and care giver. Short vignettes chronicle the decline of Lars, her father and Rachel her stepmother. As it begins, Laura checks in frequently but the need for assistance grows to require some temporary live in help and then to nursing home (for Rachel) and hospice visitors (for Lars). The deaths of Rachel and then Lars are gently portrayed and you see the decisions and grief that follow.

There are familiar themes of the elderly, “I want to stay in my house”, “I don’t need any help” hoarding and denial. The outside world intrudes as the Rodney King riots rage around their home and an earthquake strikes. Through it all Laura is patient and caring. She makes meals (which her parents don’t eat), bathes Rachel and gently introduces diapers. Laura takes a lot in stride and has support from her husband.

When Rachel has totally exhausted both husband and daughter there is a nursing home, introduced to her as a temporary stay. The experience is a chain of small and large disasters leading up to Lars’ short brush with the medical establishment.

This is a beautifully told portrait of elder care, which even under the best of circumstances (Laura seems to have the time, money and family support) is trying and difficult.
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on June 20, 2014
This was a difficult review to write-both of my parents are deceased. I was looking for some of the same answers we all look for when a loved one fails, declines, and finally dies. Ms. Farmer has created a work where, as one turns the pages, one must laugh and cry and-sometimes-yell to the heavens. I am deliberately NOT giving away the plot for it is something to savor and reexperience more than once. Thank you, Ms. Farmer, for your poignant and witty offering of 2 human spirits and their shared journey to the other side of life on earth!
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on July 5, 2011
In Joyce Farmer's powerful "Special Exits" the people are more people-like than I have encountered in comics in a long time.

Moving without being sentimental.

Real without being pedantic.

Solid comics storytelling without any unnecessary special effects.

A solid graphic novel that reads, well, like a novel!
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