cover image Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness

Seek You: A Journey Through American Loneliness

Kristen Radtke. Pantheon, $30 (352p) ISBN 978-1-524-74806-7

As Radtke (Imagine Wanting Only This) notes at the outset of this gripping graphic investigation, she had no way of knowing, when she began researching isolation in 2016, how on-trend her topic would become. Combining personal narrative with social science, evolutionary biology, and pop culture analysis, Radtke’s work is innovative in form and painfully relevant in content. People who are socially isolated die sooner in numbers that cannot be explained simply by slip-and-falls or unchecked vices, she notes. “We need to feel deeply troubled when we observe minor social shuns so we can correct our behavior,” she says, drawing convincing lines from loneliness to totalitarianism (citing Hannah Arendt) and mass shootings. She devotes a large section to Harry Harlow, whose famous studies of baby rhesus monkeys’ need for affection contradicted early 20th-century messaging that cuddling one’s children was unhygienic. Radtke’s astute observations about social media implicate herself yet extend gentleness to her fellow lonely humans. (For example, Radtke recounts looking down on selfie-takers at an art exhibit only to end up taking one herself.) Somber illustrations range from journalistic to starkly symbolic, in variations on gray that establish a flat and lonely world, making the gradient sunset hues that sometimes burst through that much brighter. As a montage of people’s faces blends together, the effect enacts the book’s hopeful thesis that loneliness can be a catalyst for connection. For a treatise about the perils of being alone, it creates a wonderful sense of being drawn into conversation. Agent: Jin Auh, the Wylie Agency. (July)