By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated February 02, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Jim Knipfel is a crazy SOB, and I mean that in a good way. He’s a melancholy, funny, confrontational, marginal man, and I love his writing, his stories, his style. He’s just about completely blind, what with retinitis pigmentosa chewing away at his eyeballs, just like it did to his uncle’s; RP is an untreatable, hereditary, degenerative disease, and at this point in his blighted life, Knipfel is skilled at using a cane and other — as he’d put i t– Blind Man paraphernalia. Plus, he’s got an inoperable brain lesion that makes itself known through seizures of rage and other antisocial expressions, even with the drugs he takes to stay even. Anyhow, none of this accounts for the kind of strange adventures that constantly befall the guy, have always befallen him (he’s like Job, like an R. Crumb hero, like a Midwest-born Dostoyevskian protagonist with a Brooklyn mailing address), and have for years been the subject of a weekly column he used to do for an alternative newspaper in Philadelphia and now writes for the New York Press. The column is called “Slackjaw” but the book Slackjaw isn’t a collection; it’s the story of Knipfel’s ashy life, all 30-something years of it, and it’s not like any of the other memoirs you’re reading. Not unless the other memoirists you’re reading also write about drinking determinedly, smoking aggressively, listening to the grottiest of grotty punk rock ecstatically, selling blood to pay the rent, falling down a lot, founding a political party, attempting suicide, messing up at marriage, and learning Blind Man skills. And even if other memoirists wrote about this tatty, ratty existence, they don’t have his eye. I mean it; Jim Knipfel may be blind, but his artistic vision is as stunning as a sunset over the Brooklyn Bridge.

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