Willy Linthout’s only son, Sam, commited suicide in 2004. This remarkable, poignant work follows Linthout’s thinly disguised avatar, Charles Germonprez, through the awful months and years of grief following that tragic event. The lines between reality and fiction, perception and fantasy are blurred as Charles struggles to carry on living without his son, Jack. His wife is present in the strory only as an ‘off screen’ voice, emphasizing the developing gulf between the two bereaved parents, who are trying to cope in their own different ways, their marriage heading towards breakdown. Jack becomes a real presence as the silent, yet animated, chalk outline of his body on the pavement (he threw himself from the roof of the appartment block) and Charles finds that he seems to be able to communicate with his dead son through the morse code clicking of his portable CPAP machine. Charles has been diagnosed as suffering from sleep apnoea and it is this machine, with its mask and trunk-like air tube that gives the title to the book.
Linthout’s artwork remains deliberately unpolished in this book- the rough pencil drawings uninked, mistakes uncorrected, giving the work and imediacy and rawness that possibly reflects the emotions conveyed in the narrative. It is a brave move that works brilliantly, as does the decision to avoid any captions, disorientating the reader, leaving them to decide what is real and what stems from the turmoil of Charles’ mind.
This story captures the fightening state of confusion and pain that comstitutes profound grief. Linthout started the work as a form of therapy, and found that the modest project unleashed a “flood of reactions” and the book is now used by therapists as an aid to help those similarly suffering.