ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: Forbes • Lit Hub • Electric Lit
A gorgeous graphic memoir about loss, love, and confronting grief
When Kristen Radtke was in college, the sudden death of a beloved uncle and the sight of an abandoned mining town after his funeral marked the beginning moments of a lifelong fascination with ruins and with people and places left behind. Over time, this fascination deepened until it triggered a journey around the world in search of ruined places. Now, in this genre-smashing graphic memoir, she leads us through deserted cities in the American Midwest, an Icelandic town buried in volcanic ash, islands in the Philippines, New York City, and the delicate passageways of the human heart. Along the way, we learn about her family and a rare genetic heart disease that has been passed down through generations, and revisit tragic events in America’s past.
A narrative that is at once narrative and factual, historical and personal, Radtke’s stunning illustrations and piercing text never shy away from the big questions: Why are we here, and what will we leave behind?
(With black-and-white illustrations throughout; part of the Pantheon Graphic Novel series)
Writer, illustrator, and editor Radtke's graphic memoir does something difficult within just a few minimally designed, emotional pages: she transforms the over-studied experience of being a talented artist stuck in that yearning gulf between college's purpose and life's demands into something unique and thuddingly real. Starting with a bracing trip she takes as a Chicago art student into a ruined Gary, Ind., cathedral, and framing her story with the sometimes panicky fatalism that comes with a dangerous heart defect, Radtke unspools a ruminative narrative about searching for meaning in an impermanent world. The focus on entropy, decay, and randomness would be grim and borderline pretentious if it weren't delivered with an unusually forthright honesty and deft, Chris Marker esque ability to parse out meaning and wonder from the smallest details. Though the story of her investigative journey into decay around the world resonates, it is flattened by artwork that, oddly enough, has almost no sense of place.