Image of Crushing
Release Date: 
January 11, 2022
Algonquin Young Readers
Reviewed by: 

“An exquisitely painful portrait of loneliness, perfectly pitched for the current time of pandemic isolation.”

In this debut graphic novel Sophie Burrows draws an exquisitely painful portrait of loneliness, perfectly pitched for the current time of pandemic isolation. The opening page shows a young couple on a blanket in a park, but their happy story isn’t the one we follow. The next page reveals the first protagonist, a lone woman on a bench, her red coat a marker we follow as she leaves the park and makes her way back into the crowded city. Alone on the metro, there is a wince-worthy page where she smiles at a young man, only to be ignored. The rest of the day doesn’t go any better. Finally, late at night, she heads out for a lonely dinner.

And here is where Burrows shows some visual genius. The woman in the red coat sits alone, studying the menu, while a man with red hair sits, also alone. Now she is the one ignoring his glance. And he is the one we follow out of the restaurant, the portrait of an echoing loneliness. The details are different, but the effect is the same, a sense of everyone else having a wonderful time, of isolation within a happy crowd.

The reader now expects to see the loneliness pass to a new character, and when the man leaves the grocery store for a cafe, it does. This time back to the woman, now working at the cafe and dressed in a red apron, the red having become a kind of branding of loneliness.

The red-headed man reappears, though, and the rest of the book goes back and forth between the two miserable figures, he with his dog for company, she with her cat. They each work and try to be part of the group with other people but remain steadfastly alone. There are twists and turns to the plot as Burrows explores every possible variation on the theme of loneliness, from that in a bar to that on the street to the misery of being in a hospital bed. The desperate need for human touch, for human connection is beautifully evoked in the deceptively simple drawings. When the man and woman finally come together in the self-checkout line at the market, the reader is cheering them on. Will they finally see each other and be seen?

The silence of the book, the fact that it is wordless, amplifies the aching loneliness of the characters. This is a story in which every detail has been carefully thought out, providing the reader with a rich narrative experience. That this is a debut leaves one eager to see what Burrows’ next project will be.