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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel


by Jim Knipfel

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Memoir of a boy becoming a man who slowly grows almost completely blind.

It's an amazing story, alternately compelling and slow-moving, as the author winds
through fear, anger, hatred, drugs, alcohol, depression, violence, accidents, seizures
from a brain lesion, crime, marriage and divorce to ultimately becoming a writer of
stories, columns, and a book published in 1999. Saved by his cane!

Inviting description of his job at The Guggenheim.

Time to check online to see how he's doing seventeen years later... ( )
  m.belljackson | Nov 5, 2017 |
Jim Knipfel is a madman. Legally blind, suicidally depressed, subject to manic rages, and funny as hell, Knipfel is unique in the annals of “living with disabilities” books. He avoids both of the major biographical no-nos: self-pity and dewy-eyed courage. Slackjaw takes no prisoners.

On the one hand, this is a fairly simple book: man going blind learns to deal with it. No big accident, no sudden trauma, just darkness slowly encroaching. After a middle-class childhood, Knipfel has his anarchistic, punk rock college years. He goes off to grad school (what else is a philosophy major to do?) where he supports himself as a petty thief (why didn’t I think of that?). Despite depression which occasionally spiraled into suicide attempts, he fell in love and moved to Philadelphia, where he began writing a column called “Slackjaw” for an alternative weekly called Welcomat. Eventually he and his wife moved to Brooklyn, Welcomat went under, and “Slackjaw” moved to the New York Press. He and his wife divorce, his vision worsens, and he has to learn to navigate New York City with a cane. That’s it: the book in a nutshell.

Ahh, but on the other hand, nothing about this book is simple. The writing is great: sharp, funny, angry, and evocative. Knipfel deals with big issues like mental illness and physical disability honestly, clearly, and with savage humor. There’s no room here for “Poor me, I’ve had a rough life,” or “yes, I suffer, but I suffer nobly.” Knipfel tells it like it is, and does a damn fine job of it.

Funny, sad, shocking, compelling—what more do you people need? Get thee to a bookstore and pick up Slackjaw, and take a gander at Knipfel’s other book, Quitting the Nairobi Trio, while you’re at it. It’s about his time in a mental hospital, and I can’t wait to hear his story.
( )
  Mrs_McGreevy | Nov 17, 2016 |
I think I expected more style out of this book than it intended to give. It's a decent telling of his life and struggle but it feels a bit strained and police report-y to me. Only about 3/4 of the way in, right about when his sight begins to completely leave him (not a spoiler), does the writing start to open up a little bit. And maybe this was the whole point, that he was so guarded until the sight was gone. Only then could he begin to accept everything and be himself. But for me, this one just had too much stilted reporting to it to make me feel engaged. ( )
  Ivegotzooms | Apr 13, 2013 |
Knipfel is your classic loser: a drunk who can't keep a girl or keep his cool. Much of this is due to his slow retreat into total blindness and a brain lesion, but the rest is him being plain old pissed off at the world. You can kind of blame him for most of his problems - and why not; he does - but you immediately forgive him too because he's making you laugh a little at the common madness.

Certainly not a "gifted" writer in the usual sense of the literary tradition, Knipfel's memoir is a necessary reminder to shut up and get on with it. Pick it up, reflect and chuckle, and then delve into a classic to re-ground yourself. ( )
  artistlibrarian | Feb 25, 2011 |
This is a great quick read - I started it in the airport, waiting for my flight, and finished as we were taxiing up to the gate. Made the flight seem very short indeed.

Jim has hit the genetic jackpot - he has retinitis pigmentosa, which is causing him to go blind, and a lesion in his brain that is causing him to go mad. He recounts all of this with quite a lot of humor, although you get the definite impression it was more painful than he lets on. Punk rock, shoplifting, bar fights and general anarchy keep him going, and his disdain for the traditional blind subculture is funny stuff. Much funnier than you would expect from such dismal subject matter. ( )
  LisaLynne | Apr 13, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0425173305, Paperback)

Who would have thought a memoir about going blind and suffering from severe depression could be so funny? From the opening scene, when an uncle who has the same degenerative eye disease warns 12-year-old Jim, "You better start learning Braille now," Knipfel defies all the conventional responses to adversity. You can't help but laugh when a doctor "who had obviously been playing hooky when they were teaching sensitivity in medical school" tells a wailing woman who has just learned her son is dying, "Please sit down... [he] has a good two or three weeks yet." The hard-edged humor comes naturally to a guy who as a grad student formed a band called the Pain Amplifiers; we're not exactly surprised to learn that his column for an alternative newspaper prompted hate mail as well as fan letters. Knipfel's complete lack of self-pity conveys the particulars of failing vision with blunt immediacy (he wears a wide-brimmed hat so he'll feel impending lampposts before he knocks himself senseless against them). His zest for the world's absurdities makes this book an exhilarating guide to "the weirdness parade I have been marching in my whole life." --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:00 -0400)

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