I can’t remember reading a graphic novel that treats the subject of death in such an everyday way. This autobiographical book follows the final few years of an octogenarian couple as they take the long walk to their final resting places. Lars and Rachel have been married for decades, living in an area of Los Angeles that has gone downhill over the years.
As life goes by Rachel and then Lars become increasingly decrepit, so they need to be looked after by Laura, Lars’s daughter by a previous marriage. They have no wish to leave their home so Laura starts to care for them, which starts with the shopping and an occasional tidy up, and ends up as a full-time situation.
Much of the book is clearly influenced from the perspective of the care giver. It was Joyce Farmer’s observations of her own father and his wife as they pass through to the end of their lives that fed the story. However, it’s also about Lars and Rachel. Farmer is clear to inject their personality and snippets of their history: who they were and how it’s created what they are today.
But the unflinching carer is the hero of this book, giving her time to her Dad and his partner. Cleaning, bathing and toilet duties become central; cooking and feeding fills the gaps in-between. It’s a heart-rending glimpse of the nature of the work for those who haven’t been there, made doubly difficult by the circumstances that get people into the situation in the first place.
Farmer’s pen and ink style captures the characters perfectly. Lars and Rachel slowly unravel as they approach their ends, losing their physical ability and eventually their faculties as death approaches. You can see the deterioration but also the humanity in their faces and personalities. Their bodies are failing them, but these are the same people they always were, full of life despite the onset of death.
It’s a charming and disarming book, which speaks plainly and honestly about what we can expect from the end, either personally or through our loved ones, making it a brave and compelling read.