In 2007, during the months before Nick Flynn's daughter's birth, his growing outrage and obsession with torture, exacerbated by the Abu Ghraib photographs, led him to Istanbul to meet some of the Iraqi men depicted in the photos. Haunted by a history of addiction and a longing to connect with his mother who committed suicide, Flynn artfully interweaves in this memoir passages from his childhood, his relationships with women, and his growing obsession - a questioning of terror, torture, and the political crimes we can neither see nor understand in post 9/11 American life.
The time bomb of the title becomes an unlikely metaphor and vehicle for exploring the fears and joys of becoming a father. Here is a memoir of profound self-discovery, of being lost and found, of painful family memories and losses, of the need to run from love, and of the ability to embrace it again.
Nick Flynn is an award-winning poet and author most recently of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City.
Does Nick Flynn’s book, The Ticking Is the Bomb, really qualify as a memoir? Yes, if we accept Gore Vidal’s definition: “a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked.” So, yes, a memoir and, by turns, a dream, a hallucination, or the painting of one man’s internal landscape a la Salvador Dali.
This is not to infer that any of the facts recounted here by Flynn are hazy, in particular the facts surrounding the horrific prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in 2004 or the 2007 revelation that torture was sanctioned by the United States. The grisly details of these public stories are woven together with tales of domestic terror from Flynn’s personal history throughout the book: the violent suicide of his mother, the mental illness and subsequent homelessness of his father, alongside less grave memories of teaching jobs, past relationships, and the happy anticipation of the birth of his first child.
The surrealistic quality of the book is further established by Flynn’s disordered use of dates to pin the events of his life to some invisible calendar, by his fluid movement between what is most ugly and most beautiful in human behavior, and by the voice of narrator Scott Brick, whose benthic voice pulls you down, down, down into the warm water.
Brick invites us to sit on the couch as Nick paws through a box of unsorted photos, sliding each one onto our laps and intoning meaningfully, “1987, Boston”, or, “2008, Wrong Ocean”. You follow his voice into the room where Flynn, sick to his stomach, listens to an ex-detainee of Abu Ghraib painfully relive the details of his torture. You follow his voice to Vietnam, with Flynn’s stepfather Travis, a Vietnam Vet, and watch as Travis kisses the hand of a My Lai survivor and begs her forgiveness. Much later, you follow the sound of him singing softly in his daughter’s small bedroom, in their haphazardly renovated barn, reminding Lulu that “all you need is love”.
Which date, or place, or event will prove to be the most critical in shaping Flynn’s life? Is he destined for a tragedy similar to those he’s witnessed all his life, or a happy ending? We are compelled to keep listening for the answers. Lisa Duggan
"Flynn's life is so volcanic and his writing style so kinetic and punchy that others will be drawn into this gripping personal narrative." (Publishers Weekly)
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Memoir of a selfish man
- Mark E. White
Excellent book, Audiobook not so much
- Angela M. Peacock