‘Imagine Wanting Only This’ by Kristen Radtke – Everything is Only Temporary

 

‘Imagine Wanting Only This’, a graphic memoir by Kristen Radtke   (2017) – 277 pages

The event that drives this graphic memoir ‘Imagine Wanting Only This’ is the early sudden death of the narrator’s beloved favorite Uncle Dan when she was a young girl. Later she discovers that she may also have the congenital heart condition that took her Uncle Dan. From then on, she is consumed with the impermanence of life and everything else and devotes much of her energy to studying it.  Not only lives are temporary but also buildings that go to ruins and even relationships which end. .  At one point Radtke writes that she’s “consumed by the question of how something that is can become, very suddenly, something that isn’t.”

Radtke’s approach is somewhat scattered with her taking incidents from around the world as part of her obsession with temporariness.  One incident she dwells on is the Peshtigo Fire of 1871 in her and my home state of Wisconsin which took more than 1200 lives.  Her travels take her to an abandoned church in Gary, Indiana to a village in Iceland decimated by a volcano to a deserted military base in the Philippines.

The graphics in this book are interesting throughout.  One quality is the many varied drawings throughout this graphic memoir.  However there is such a thing as being too earnest. The subject here – impermanence – is so deep it begs for a lighter approach.  More humor and lightness in the drawings would have helped.

 I do have one quibble. When Radtke portrays a TV news program about an abandoned Detroit neighborhood, she shows a scene from Fox News.  It is difficult not to deride anything associated with this propaganda network, and that detracts from the gravity of Radtke’s theme.

I don’t believe I have read any graphic book with a theme as serious as this one unless it was Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman about the Holocaust or ‘Persepolis’ by Marjane Satrapi about the Islamic Revolution in Iran.  However both of these other authors found ways to lighten their stories.  There is nothing lightening the melancholy mood in ‘Imagine Wanting Only This’ which takes itself somewhat too seriously.

I found Radtke’s approach to her subject just too diffuse and though she attempts to reach a unifying theme she does not quite succeed.  With her scattered approach, Radtke does not achieve the depth that her big subject of impermanence warrants.

 

Grade :    B –

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Not registering the Fox logo, I saw the cartoon that you posted on Twitter and my (obviously out of context) response was, yes, nothing’s permanent, what’s wrong with this author that she can’t handle the inevitable changes of modern life?
    Now, reading your review, I’m still thinking, is there some insight I’m missing? She’s grieving for an uncle, may have a shortened life expectancy, and she’s noticed the impermanence of life. To make a book worth reading of this experience (which is hardly unusual), an author needs to offer some insight that others may not have considered, or approach it from a different angle (and I don’t mean doing it in graphics, I mean thinking of it from a different angle.)
    To put my question another way, is this a case of extreme narcissism where we are supposed to emote with her over her grief at having painted a now unwanted wall?

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    • Hi Lisa,
      I don’t know how much you Australians know about Fox News, but I see Fox News as the prime factor and example of what has gone wrong with the United States during the last 25 years culminating in Donald Trump. So I don’t take kindly to Fox News references and should have known Twitter would highlight that.
      In ‘Imagine Wanting Only This’, she travels the world over finding examples of impermanance. She probably could have stayed on her block and found them. Her approach is a little too hazy for me, but it is not a bad book. There is no sense of rising above impermanence in this graphic memoir.

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  2. I can’t speak for what most Australians know, but I suspect that those of us who watch the public broadcaster i.e. the independent ABC would know about Fox News from the wash-up of the Trump election. About which we have heard so much that a Trump-free day is one of life’s simple delights. (Except that even noticing that it’s been a Trump-free day means we’re not free of him, and he’s not even our president #Sigh.)
    But whether any of us have joined the dots and identified our own commercial and pay media as being in the same tabloid camp of lies and distortions, I can’t say.

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