Mental Disorders

Review of "Slackjaw"

By Jim Knipfel
Berkley Publishing Group, 1999
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Jul 6th 2000
SlackjawKnipfel writes a column in the weekly New York Press. He has the journalist's knack of getting your attention, being amusing, and making his point quickly. Part M*A*S*H-era Alan Alda wisecracking, part Johnny Rotten anger, he is compulsively irreverent with a twisted sense of humor and a wish that people would leave him alone.

If he didn't have so many problems, Knipfel would probably be really annoying. He does not blame his bad attitude on his problems, and one gets the sense that he would be self-destructive and antisocial even if he were in the best of health. But Knipfel has more than his fair share of his problems, and he is not responsible for many of them. His vision has been slowly declining, and he is now legally blind. He has a brain lesion which causes him to be full of rage unless he takes anticonvulsant medication. He loves drinking, even when though it gets him into all sorts of trouble. He has tried to kill himself numerous times. So it's a little surprising that this is a funny book with a feel-good ending. Without self-pity, he learns to cope with life better and he comes to terms with his loss of his vision.

One striking fact about Knipfel is that he majored in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin and was even in a philosophy graduate program at the University of Chicago. He doesn't feel that such an education qualifies him to do much, and it was virtually an accident that he managed to make money from his writing skills. His attitude and his vision problems make it hard for him to get a job, but he shows some pride by the end of the book at being able to keep his job as a phone receptionist for the New York Press. His job may not stretch him intellectually, and he doesn't seem to be using his philosophical abilities. Nevertheless, his attitude keeps him going.

One final parenthetical note: this is the first paperback I've seen with a promotional blurb (albeit a small one) on the spine of the book. Maybe the publishers are hoping that Knipfel won't see it.

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