Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Drunken adventures in going blind

Book: Slackjaw

Author: Jim Knipfel

Pages: 231

Published: 1999 (Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putman)

I like Jim Knipel, starting with his last name (you pronounce the K) and ending with the narrow fedora-shaded face in his author photo. He sounds like an excellent person to take to a bar and get drunk on a boring midweek night.

Which is exactly what his book feels like, a long tale spun frankly and wryly somewhere dark and smoky that tastes like beer. According to his roughly chronological stories, that’s exactly where most of them start or end up, launching or killing a long day of the author bouncing his cynical personal struggle against weird characters on his way to get things done that may or may not be illegal.

Knipfel gives the standard self-destruction narrative unexpected texture with normal loving parents, a genetic disease that makes him start going blind by age twenty, deft and liberal touches of black humor, a frank understanding of his own suicidal impulses (every year or eighteen months, he says, living just gets too much), and, eventually, a foldout cane that goes “flubbity-flubbity.”

It’s hilarious and compulsive and peters out into cranky optimism that feels well-earned by the end. 

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