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Ruining It for Everybody, Jim Knipfel's 3rd memoir. An anti-spirituality spiritual manifesto.

The Buzzing, a novel

Quitting the Nairobi Trio, available in hardback or trade paperback.

Slackjaw, available in hardback or paperback. Also available, Blindfisch, the German translation.

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Slackjaw by Jim Knipfel

Slackjaw: He's Got a Happy Smile

by Mike Walsh, proprietor,

Jim Knipfel skillfully draws you into his Slackjaw columns by meticulously documenting the tribulations of his day-to-day life. These events, like applying for a job in a liquor store or a subway commute, may seem relatively inconsequential at first, but Knipfel manages to make them meaningful, funny, and often very tense. In Knipfel's hands, these events rise to the another level.

As he puts it in the conclusion to I Ain't Seen Sunshine..., "See, if you choose to--if you just sit back and let it happen--every day is full of tiny little adventures."

Strange little events seems to happen to Knipfel more than most people. In fact, they make him feel good.

After a strange encounter with an old woman in Return to Strangeville, he writes, "Somehow, with that little exchange, something had clicked back into place. Life was weird again, I knew that for sure now, and I felt much better about it all. I continued on into the office with a newfound bounce in my step. Well, not a bounce actually, more of a limp, but it was something."

He doesn't have a good explanation for the odd occurances that seem to dog him, but he has a few suspicions. As he writes in People Think I Make This Shit Up, "I can't tell if the strangeness that follows me ... is the result of some karmic backlash, the tiny bit of demon technology implanted in my jaw by alien intelligence operatives, or simply the paranoid result of the way a brain sodden by too many years of rampant alcohol abuse perceives the world."

Maybe the personal and often private conflicts Knipfel shares are so compelling because they are so real--hyperreal, I should say. And Slackjaw's hyper-reality doesn't let you off easy. He keeps you right there with him in a headlock as he examines the muck in his life, his thoughts, and American culture.

But maybe it's the Slackjaw humor that makes readers care. This isn't the kind of humor that rolls inevitably toward a big punch line. It's not over-the-top or wacky. It's the kind that creeps up on you with a sly remark, witty phrase, quirky attitude, corny midwesternism, or ridiculous situation. Through all the patented Slackjaw hatred and overall misery, his humor and sense of irony is always present reminding you not take any of it too seriously. After several suicide attempts, Knipfel has learned that if he's going to stick around he may as well get in a few yucks.

As he says in one story, "I got a happy smile."

But the most appealing trait of the Slackjaw columns is the honesty. Knipfel bares his soul week after week. It's all there, the grumpy opinions, bleak outlook, alcohol abuse, mood swings, crumbling marriage, health problems, and failing eyesight. At times he is loose and wise-cracking, at others he's suicidal. He's not afraid to give you his opinions, politically correct or not, and he's not afraid to show you his embarrassing moments. There's a trust be builds with the reader over the course of numerous columns that he's giving it you straight.

Like a soap opera (albeit a weird and edgy one), Slackjaw is addictive. It may be an acquired taste, but once you get a little, you'll find yourself coming back for more. Despite the sometimes excruciating detail and relentless narcissism, Slackjaw is undeniably funny, compelling, and endearing. Maybe that's why Slackjaw was voted the top column in the NY Press by readers several years in a row.