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Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir is an extraordinary debut


Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke

Imagine Wanting Only This is a beautiful, poetic rumination on loss

There’s not much I want to say about Imagine Wanting Only This (Pantheon, hardcover, $39.95CDN, 281 pps., publication date: April 18). The graphic memoir has already picked up a heap of praise; you can see examples of this at the author’s homepage,

Suffice it to say, everything that these reviews say is true. Imagine Wanting Only This is a gorgeous debut, with Radtke’s lovely greyscale art matched by her precise, poetic language, and creative storytelling techniques.

“The miners knew the insides of everything. They mapped the earth, dragged it out of itself, moved through the dirt that told them how the past began,” she writes at one point.

In one of my favourite pages, Radtke draws herself prone against a black background. She is sleepless, her eyes dark with fatigue, and around her swirl curlicues of thoughts: “I wonder what Baby Jessica is doing now. She was on CNN that one time. She must be like 30, at least…”

Imagine Wanting Only This is autobiographical, and begins with Radtke’s journey as a young adult fresh out of art school in Chicago, uprooting herself and her boyfriend to Gary, Indiana. The story also takes Radtke, and us, to Detroit, an abandoned mining town in Colorado, Italy and Iceland. On the face of it, there’s nothing exceptional about her story, which folds in themes of loneliness, family, genetics, abandoned places, and much more. But she finds the universal in her life, and the book is full of wonderful insights and connections that give us an intimate look at how the author processes her experiences.

A panel from early in Kristen Radtke's graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This.
A panel from early in Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir Imagine Wanting Only This.

Based in Brooklyn, Radtke is also the managing editor of Sarabande Books, and the film and video editor of TriQuarterly magazine. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program. And she’s a contributor to the New Yorker and Buzzfeed, so yes, she’s a rising talent who also is quite accomplished.

There is a rare triple talent at work in Imagine Wanting Only This, which is equally accomplished in words, images and technique. If you’re a fan of the graphic memoir form at all, you’ll want to own at least one copy, and perhaps another to lend to friends.

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