BookBrowse Reviews Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton

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Cockeyed

A Memoir

by Ryan Knighton

Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton X
Cockeyed by Ryan Knighton
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  • First Published:
    May 2006, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2007, 288 pages

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An irreverent, tragicomic, politically incorrect, astoundingly articulate memoir about going blind – and growing up.

From the book jacket: On his 18th birthday, Ryan Knighton was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), a congenital, progressive disease marked by night-blindness, tunnel vision and, eventually, total blindness. In this penetrating, nervy memoir, which ricochets between meditation and black comedy, Knighton tells the story of his fifteen-year descent into blindness while incidentally revealing the world of the sighted in all its phenomenal peculiarity. Knighton learns to drive while unseeing; has his first significant relationship—with a deaf woman; navigates the punk rock scene and men's washrooms; learns to use a cane; and tries to pass for seeing while teaching English to children in Korea. Stumbling literally and emotionally into darkness, into love, into couch-shopping at Ikea, into adulthood, and into truce if not acceptance of his identity as a blind man, his writerly self uses his disability to provide a window onto the human condition. His experience of blindness offers unexpected insights into sight and the other senses, culture, identity, language, our fears and fantasies. Cockeyed is not a conventional confessional. Knighton is powerful and irreverent in words and thought and impatient with the preciousness we've come to expect from books on disability. Readers will find it hard to put down this wild ride around their everyday world with a wicked, smart, blind guide at the wheel.

Comment: Sometimes the book jacket blurbs are so overwritten that it's embarrassing to read the cover, let alone the book itself - rather like one of those restaurants that produce multi-page menus with exotic descriptions of dishes that one knows simply can't live up to their over-blown write-up.  Fortunately, the Cockeyed book jacket blurb does not fall into that category.  In fact, it's so comprehensive that there isn't much left to say about Cockeyed - other than to note that if this was a work of fiction the author would be getting terrible flak on multiple fronts.  Some would be decrying the author's politic incorrectness for laughing at a disabled person, others would point out that certain scenes, albeit funny, simply pushed the boundaries of improbability too far. 

However, this isn't a novel, it's memoir - and Knighton can (and does) tell it just the way he wants.  The result is a wickedly funny, occasionally angry, book that is likely to give you a totally different perspective on disabilities in general, and blindness in particular.  As always, don't take our word for it,  instead read a 13-page excerpt (believed to be exclusive to BookBrowse) and decide for yourself.

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in August 2006, and has been updated for the June 2007 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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