Imagine Wanting Only This

Kristen Radtke’s debut graphic novel is the autobiographical account of life in the shadow of a genetic heart disorder

Kristen Radtke pictured in her graphic biography Imagine Wanting Only ThisKristen Radtke’s graphic biography is crammed with life but shadowed by death. Born into a family with a genetic heart disorder, which carries a high risk that the organ could deteriorate rapidly and fail at any time, she lives the life of a person with a ticking time bomb in her chest.

Her early years are marked by a close relationship with her uncle, the youngest of her father’s brothers, who unfortunately dies of the heart condition while she’s at college. This leads her to re-evaluate her life and ponder deeply on the meaning of it all, both in terms of the life she’s living, but also the traces that she’ll leave behind when she’s gone.

Uncle Dan in Kristen Radtke's graphic biography Imagine Wanting Only ThisInitially it reads like a disparate set of interests. Radtke wants a career in art and is fascinated by abandoned buildings and deserted mining towns. She also struggles to make fixed, permanent bonds with people, preferring instead to uproot herself and move on when things are solidifying.

By the end of the book, however, you can see how these threads bind together to make the whole, bringing the hidden currents of Radtke’s psyche out into the open with the eye of a therapist.

The art isn’t really to my taste. Monochromatic and a little mechanical in execution, it doesn’t draw you into the story. The writing, however, is intense and fascinating, though it makes quite slow progress through Radtke’s own revelations and realisations.

It’s an interesting addition to the growing pantheon of graphic biographies but is a bit too personal to hold the grand historical gravitas of some of its rivals.

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