What happens when your identity seems to fundamentally alter itself, when you’ve been calling yourself one thing for so long but then realize you may no longer be that word with which you’ve previously labeled yourself as?
That’s one of the chief explorations of Josh Sundquist’s Love and First Sight. It’s the story of Will, a once-blind teenager who undergoes surgery to gain sight for the first time in his life. However, as one might expect, that sight comes at a cost and is also severely limited.
One of the most interesting elements of the book was the way that Will struggled to switch from the identity of being a blind person to being a sighted person. Before the surgery, Will was assured of his identity and thinks of himself as “other” from the sighted people. He must grapple with this self-identification after he gets his sight, because though he is no longer blind, he also does not see himself as a “normal” sighted person, and many of the characters continue to refer to him as a blind person—such as a security guard at an art museum who jokes that he will be the first blind person to see these paintings.
The most compelling thing about the narrative, for me at least, was the way that Will has to rediscover the world around him and the ways that Sundquist beautifully conveys Will’s confusion and frustration in these moments, making me think more critically of the way I perceive the world around me.
One of the scenes that most stuck with me is when Will is trying to relearn the world and his mother hands him an object. He struggles to look at and identify it, but is unable to label it because the part of his brain that is meant to connect images with meaning has not developed. It is only when he touches the object, feels the shape of it, that he is able to understand that it is a saltshaker.
Here, he seems to combine the parts of his identity, or at least, he uses his past blindness and the knowledge he had in that blindness to inform his sightedness and help him to better understand the world around him. This rediscovery is fraught and oftentimes frustrating for him, but he attempts to learn the world as a sighted person would.
However, he often finds that he falls somewhere between identifying as someone who can see and someone who can’t. And he struggles with this identification, and the novel doesn’t really give us a simple or clean answer to how to deal with this struggle, because it is one that many of us will have to continue to go on as we grow.
Identity is not a fixed point.
So who are you when your identity changes? And what happens when you don’t cleanly fit into one identity?
These are questions that Sundquist’s novel grapple with, and it’s applicable to anyone questioning there own identity and where they fit in the world—whether that be in terms or your gender or sexuality or age or class or student-dom.
As I write this right now, I am awaiting my final class of undergrad, possibly my final class ever. After today (and once I’ve finished up my finals), I will no longer be able to label myself as a “student.” I’ve also completed my honors project, which means I can also no longer tell people that “I am doing honors” but rather have to say that “I did honors.”
It’s a weird loss, and honestly, I’m not quite sure how to grapple with it, because it’s simultaneously exciting and terrifying to see how this change in identity. Sundquist’s novel does a beautiful job with letting this ambiguity and potential for future change remain. The answers aren’t all fixed at the end, and I think that’s really a beautiful thing.