Kristen Radtke’s graphic memoir Imagine Wanting only this raises many questions and has many themes, but the book doesn’t necessarily answer them. We follow Radtke as she deals with the death of a favorite uncle, becomes engaged to a man we know she is not suited for, goes to grad school, and travels the globe extensively often visiting ruins and other abandoned buildings.
This is a lot of material to cover, even if the book was a narrative, but especially so for a graphic novel with sparse drawings and verbiage. The first part of the book deals with the admiration and then unexpected death of her uncle from a heart condition that many in her family have. I wanted the book to be about this, and though she returned to this topic at times, she seemed to loop further and further away from it.
Throughout the book we see that Radtke is restless, needing to go to the next place and the next, moving from city to city, and traveling from country to country, but feeling empty and lonely in each. She becomes obsessed with abandoned places and from this, locks into the idea of impermanence. She talks about how we will all be ruins one day, and that there will come a time when nothing we have touched will exist anymore.
The book’s title, “Imagine Wanting Only This,” is the opposite of her discontent. She is surprised when she visits her aunt to find that she and her nephews are still living in the same house and using the same couch where her uncle once lived. She wonders what it would be like to be satisfied to want no more than what you have.
Of course, this is the way someone in their 20s thinks. Although I didn’t have access to money to travel when I was this age, I did feel this sense of restlessness and loneliness that I don’t feel now. At some point, we stop feeling as if we need to keep moving and find satisfaction with what is in front of us.
The book raises important questions, but in the end it feels as if we are living through Radtke’s depression. It is definitely not an uplifting book and I wouldn’t want to read it when I was in the state of mind she is in in the book. As someone who does not feel like this anymore, I found the questions she raised interesting, but only as someone who does not grapple with them anymore.