Special Exits by Joyce Farmer

wilsonknut.comIn this graphic memoir, Joyce Farmer  chronicles the gradual decline of her elderly parents’ health and how that decline affects their relationships, their emotional well-being, and their day-to-day existence.  Farmer’s parents, Lars and Rachel,  face their suffering with a stoicism that borders on insanity, refusing to see doctors or simply just not telling their daughter they are seriously ill because they don’t want to bother her.  Lars tells Farmer at one point, “Things get worse in such small increments you can get used to anything.”

Farmer’s parent live in a bad neighborhood in southern Los Angeles.  They experience the 1992 L.A. riots as shut-ins, her mother not being able to leave the couch.  Farmer’s father can see the flames from their front door.  Their house is in disrepair, and like most elderly couples, they get to a point where they just can’t keep up with the cooking and cleaning.  Farmer regularly visits to clean the house, shop for groceries, and learn about her parents’ lives; but it is too much for one person to do part-time.  She hints throughout the years that they need assisted living, but both of her parents refuse until it is no longer an option.  In fact, her father makes her promise that he will be able to die in his own house.


Anyone who has cared for a loved one in that last season of life, or witnessed their parents care for their grandparents, will attest to the heartbreaking truth about the human condition Farmer has captured in pen. This book, like Art Spiegelman’s Maus,  will likely become a classic in the graphic novel medium for its artistic craftsmanship and emotional power.


6 thoughts on “Special Exits by Joyce Farmer”

  1. Thanks, Wilson Knut, for such a thoughtful review. While I was working on this book, it was impossible to know its future, but I wanted to capture the universal in the quotidian details. You have understood this.

    1. I read the article in today’s LA Times about Joyce and her new work. I can’t wait to see it. But I was irked by the opening lines about Joyce: “whom you’d half expect to greet you at the door with a pan of steaming muffins…” Would D. Vankin say this if it was R. Crumb who answered the door? Why are we always relegated to sexless objects if our hair is white?

      Wilson, your review has encouraged me even more, and I’m off to Amazon to order right now!

      Joyce, I would love exchange ideas with you, if there is an appropriate way to do so. I’m still sorting out my thoughts and life after caring for my aging parents for the past 10 years.

  2. Suzi–

    Email might be the best way to communicate. However, I’m slow to answer. The book has been finished for some time now, I’m starting to hear from a lot of people who have been long-time caregivers. It’s good that the book struck a chord, now it would be good to fix the problems associated with caregiving, abuse of the elderly both financial and medical, etc. I’ll respond as is possible, don’t expect too much – I tried to say it all in the book.
    I think Ms. Vankin was searching for a snappy opening – in person she doesn’t seem to be the type to categorize people, but I did enjoy your observation. Her closing statement was accurate and good.

  3. Hello Joyce: I am a Professor in gerontology at the University of MS and Lisa Howorth, of Square Books in Oxford, recommended this book to me, given by longtime work with caregivers. I am hoping to use this in a special topics class in aging. Do you know of anyone doing this or have any recommendations? I also may review it for our gerontology community. Are you doing any signings or talks? Good work.
    Jo Ann

    1. Jo Ann,

      I’m not sure if Joyce will receive an update with your comment. I tried to forward the comment to her via the email address she used when she commented, but I received an error message.

      Just to let everyone know- as the administrator of the site, I am the only person able to see the email addresses you use when you comment.


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