Globe and Mail; Section: Book a Day
Book at Day Column by John Allemang
Sightlessness doesn't offer many advantages, you have to assume, but Ryan Knighton
has hit on the dark humour that can only be found by the white cane's tapping.
title is just the first indication that the blind man's perspective
on life is bound to be askew. The progressive tragedy of retinitis
pigmentosa is in here somewhere, and moments of despair and self-loathing
are essential to his memoir about going vision-free. But as much
as Knighton assures us the supersensitivity of the blind is a
myth, he's a classic example of deprivation's compensation policy.
little, he misses nothing. Sure, public washrooms are a disaster
(try tapping for a urinal), navigating through an unfamiliar
space "is a constant state of slapstick" and couch-shopping
with his wife at Ikea becomes a tedious confusion of invasive
odours, darting crowds and long brown globs that call themselves
furniture. Knighton doesn't diminish the blind man's delusions
and dependencies even as he mines them for material, but he goes
beyond easy laughs and held-back tears with his calm insights
about what it means not to see.
Cockeyed isn't a just a philosophical meditation on his blindness; far
from it. The early chapters are classic B.C. misspent youth even
before the retinitis kicks in, and his accident-prone younger
years are pitch-perfect tragicomedy -- particularly the guilt
shift with his father as his destructive driving habits (e.g.,
trapping the car within a barricade of rocks) are revealed as
the first symptom of disease.
no gift for sorrow, Knighton turns every part of his newfound
life into the blinded version of sudden enlightenment. Bemusement
becomes him: He stretches out his wry tales of passing for sighted
in a pick-up bar or being mistakenly mugged in New Orleans (his
attackers couldn't spot his handicap -- is this a good thing?)
or impatiently descending into an underground salt mine behind
a poky blind man to the point where they become exquisite essays
on the eye's limitations.
limitations as well as his -- that's the beauty of Cockeyed.
It takes a blind man to recognize how the sighted world can miss
the obvious, that basic words like "this" and "that" are
meaningless in the dark. But Knighton, in his wisdom, doesn't
whine or moralize -- he just tells it the way he sees it.
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