Radtke’s graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This follows her as she becomes fascinated with ruins in college the book follows her through undergrad in Chicago, ruins in Italy and feeling alone, undergrad in Iowa City, difficult relationships, losing family members, and trying to feel at home in new places.
I got this book at a conversation between Kristen Radtke and Angela Pelster-Wiebe presented by Milkweed Books. My takeaway from the conversation between Radtke and Wiebe was that Kristen didn’t seem to know what her book was about, or what the goal was in writing this memoir. She didn’t seem to know how she wanted to answer the questions posed by Angela, and I think she ran into the same problem in writing this memoir. She had a lot to say but never knew how to come at it.
The memoir opens with the death of Radtke’s beloved Uncle from a heart condition, and this loss follows her through the rest of the memoir as she explores ruins of place and ruins of the self. In an attempt to find herself she explores the ruins of Gary, Indiana, Rome, Cambodia, Vietnam, Iceland, but it doesn’t seem that she as the author, narrator, person-experiencing-these-places is learning anything. On her first trip to the ruins of the unknown her and her boyfriend unknowingly disturb a recent memorial of a man recently killed. She takes his photographs, and upon discovering this mistake intends to go back and fix this wrong. But as a college student, she gets busy, and never makes it back to Gary. Instead, she takes these photos around the world with her, eventually forgetting them. These photos were the strongest through-line in the memoir. The imagined connection she felt to this man because he was also interested in ruins was interesting, but not strong enough to carry the rest of the memoir.
What is written is fleeting and leaves the reader wanting more, wanting some reflection or lesson that was drawn from these experiences, or more concrete placement in the writing. This could have been accomplished in the images provided with the text, but even the art leaves something wanting. They look like drawings that were traced over photographs, This memoir is full of blank spaces and half thought out moments.
Recommendation: I do not recommend this book. I am a firm believer that anything added to a piece of writing should add to the story, the tone, or the voice in some way. The art in this memoir doesn’t add anything to the piece. In fact, it takes away from the focus and drive of what is written. This piece doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be or how it wants to be.
That being said during the talk that I attended Radtke mentioned working on pieces for the New Yorker about being alone in New York City, and they sounded interesting.