Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness

When Kristen Radtke (Imagine Wanting Only This) began writing Seek You in 2016, the world was rather different. "Loneliness is one of the most universal things any person can feel," her author's note posits, but still-looming, pandemic-mandated isolation imbues her spectacular graphic memoir with chilling urgency.

Radtke derives her title from the Anglicized truncation of an amateur radio greeting--"CQ call"--in French (because French is the official language for international telecommunications) that "means, essentially, 'Is there anyone out there?' " As an adult, Radtke is surprised to learn of her father's nightly radio search for response and engagement. And so, she begins her examination--personal, social, scientific, historical, contemporary--with the need to "listen," "watch," "click," "touch" (all chapter titles) in order to connect. Laugh tracks, gossip, fear, chat rooms, Yayoi Kusama, Twitter, cuddlers-for-hire, each play a role in avoiding, confronting, overcoming (even just temporarily) the ubiquity of loneliness. Most haunting are Radtke's depictions of neglected human babies and tortured rhesus monkeys.

Throughout Radtke's panel-less, meticulous pages, her favored perspective is to present her characters from behind, asking audiences to look over someone's shoulders, making readers both distanced observers and complicit witnesses. Heightening the sense of isolated confinement, Radtke limits her illustrations to a controlled palette of black, white, grays, shades of teal to purple, degrees of yellow to reds. As her narrative proceeds, the darker hues lessen while the brightness intensifies. And yet, for now, as two strangers peer at one another still separated by panes of glass in the final image, Radtke's world isn't quite ready for full-color spectacle. Her words, however, remain hopeful: "I want us each to hear, miraculously, a voice calling back." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

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