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Special Exits Hardcover – December 6, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Underground feminist comic artist Farmer's account of how she looked after her aging parents is a quiet wonder. Lars and Rachel are long retired and don't venture out much from their South Los Angeles home except to go to the grocery store. Lars reads the paper, and both eagerly look forward to visits from their daughter (named Laura but presumably Farmer's stand-in) as much as they don't want to trouble her. Over the course of years that cascade through Farmer's closely detailed story, Lars and Rachel slowly become needier, but do their best to hide their decrepitude from Laura. As the years pass (the 1992 Rodney King riots threaten to make their existence even more perilous), Laura teases out small facts about her parents that she'd never known--the bags of uranium ore that Lars, an engineer, keeps in the garage, Rachel's desperately poor Missouri childhood. Farmer renders everything in busy, densely packed black-and-white frames whose cluttered look mimics the dusty house, its surfaces thick with cat hair and memories. The story is stunning for its antisentimental realism, as well as for the glimpses of fantasy (Lars's hallucination of Hades' ferryman, Charon, rowing by in the hallway) that flicker by like ghosts.
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*Starred Review* Farmer, one of the first women underground-comics creators (Tits & Clits Comix), draws on her own experience of her father’s and stepmother’s last years to create this “graphic memoir,” which is in effect an autobiographical graphic novel though with the names of family and friends changed. The narrative proceeds like conventional realistic fiction, chronologically and without authorial commentary; it’s dramatic rather than ruminative and reflective. In a liney style similar to that of the late Harvey Pekar’s favorite artist, Frank Stack (Dorman’s Doggie, 1990; The New Adventures of Jesus, 2007), Farmer portrays a middle-aged woman’s ever-more-frequent visits to her parents’ house in south L.A. as they reach and surpass 80, but there’s much more of the old couple at home (nearly the only setting for the entire book) as first her stepmother, then her father, declines toward death. Emotional and physical crises are depicted naturalistically, never hyped up to tug the heartstrings or extort pity, and the parents’ personalities are convincingly and lovingly evoked. The end-of-life literature is vast and mostly practical and advisory. Though not without value as counsel, Farmer’s contribution is primarily a work of art, moving and beautiful. --Ray Olson
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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.
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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Moving without being sentimental.Read more