By Stephen Kuusisto
Kenny Fries has ghosts on his shoulders and ghosts in his shoes. It is precisely because of this that the narrator of this important book is a shaman of culture and history. Kenny Fries is speaking for all of us, even if we don’t know it yet. Readers may initially think this is a disability memoir but it is really a post-Victorian narrative about Darwin’s strange legacy in our world of real bodies.
Arriving at the tuff of the Galapagos Islands Fries sees the graffiti carved into the hillside by two centuries of mariners. And he reads the names for us. We are in the company of travelers who have followed the course of Charles Darwin’s famous voyage and whose only writing remains as stark and meaningless as uncatalogued bones.
Enter poetry. Lyric poetry. Subjective experience. The story of a singular body.
Fries walks with damaged legs and wears custom made orthopedic shoes as he follows the path of Darwin’s literal and figurative voyage—and like Darwin he travels because customary ideas are in need of re-examination.
A friend of mine in my undergraduate days at Hobart College once observed that “there’s the real Darwin and then there are the Sears & Roebuck Darwins…” The latter are of course the purveyors of faulty social ideas and certainly people with disabilities have been the sad inheritors of same. The late Victorian obsession with eugenics comes to mind.
The History of My Shoes is a poet’s eye look at Darwin’s world of ideas and it is simultaneously a book about inhabiting a body that requires hourly adaptations both of mind and of physical practice. This is a narrative that works against method as Darwin once worked against method and the rewards are manifested on page after page. This is a groundbreaking book for those who are interested in the history of ideas and the corresponding history of the human body.