Cockeyed | Cockeyed Summary | Cockeyed Story | Cockeyed BookWednesday, January 18, 2012Atishay Jain
Author: Ryan Knighton
Ryan Knighton began to lose his sight during his adolescence from retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative condition that caused the scarring and decay of his retinas. The Vancouver writer, editor, and teacher is now virtually blind, his sight limited to a tunnel the size of a single letter in this review.
It's been a harrowing journey to the country of the blind, and Knighton has chronicled some of its stages in pieces published in magazines like Geist and the Utne Reader. With his new memoir, Cockeyed, Knighton considers how his light was spent, and offers glimpses into the world of the blind (including an intriguing discussion of the visual-centric references we see in the English language, including "glimpses" and "see").
The memoir shifts effortlessly from heartbreak to humour, from passages of denial and self-destructiveness to scenes of beauty and acceptance. Whether he is describing the sudden, wrenching death by overdose of his younger brother Rory or recounting his time at "Gimp Camp" (where he tries to address his discomfort with other blind people in an environment he describes as "a hybrid of Gilligan's Island and The Love Boat, but everybody has a white stick"), Knighton is clever without being cocky and seldom uses wit to conceal his emotions or the negative aspects of his behaviour. Cockeyed is refreshingly honest, straightforward, and touching.
Unfortunately, Knighton roots significant portions of the book in previously published material (including essays and an autobiographical prose poem), introducing a fragmentary quality that detracts from the book's flow. Most of the chapters retain the shape and tone of freestanding pieces. This series of small epiphanies undermines the power of the book in toto, although the last chapter, "Losing Face," is one of the most powerful and lends the volume a sense of closing force. In contrast, the penultimate chapter, "Ikealism," seems utterly out of place. The piece, which features a conversation on Plato's Republic with an IKEA employee, is thought-provoking, but it feels forced and at odds with the material around it.