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The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoirby Nick Flynn
Nick Flynn's newest work, The Ticking Is the Bomb, is a memoir much in the same vein as its predecessor, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, although much grander in scope and insight. Whereas the earlier book was mainly concerned with the personal, in The Ticking Is the Bomb Flynn trains his poetic gaze upon a post-9/11 America that condones torture and entwines this troubling aspect of our present with his own growing realizations about life, love, addiction, and anticipation of fatherhood. Comprised of short, essay-like vignettes, the book shimmers with sincerity, candor, and wisdom. The more Flynn strives to make sense of the insensible, the more it seems he understands facets of his own troubling past.
In many ways, The Ticking Is the Bomb considers the nature of relationships. Flynn tries to make sense of his role in many a varied relationship; the one he's had with his father, his mother, ex-lovers, his unborn child, with those that countenance unspeakable war crimes, his craft, and his own unsettled past. This is certainly Flynn's most mature work to date, and it is anything but subtle. Flynn is a tender, thoughtful writer with a strong command of language, seemingly committed to writing with devastating intellectual and emotional honesty. The Ticking Is the Bomb, like the best of memoir-style works, by the end allows the author to slip aside, leaving in his place a reader who then must, for him or herself, withstand the penetrating gaze of self-criticism.
From "The Uses of Enchantment (Flying Monkeys)":
Sometimes the story we tell about ourselves can be a type of spell. Sometimes it's about a love that never should have ended, sometimes it's about a family fortune squandered, and sometimes it's about a war we shouldn't have lost but did. Sometimes it's an echo of a story from our childhoods, a fairy tale, a story of what could have been saved, what could have been salvaged, if we'd just held on a little longer. A story of not giving up, as they say in AA, before the miracle comes. Or the story I carry, unuttered if my mother had just made it to Monday, bewildered but alive... The structure of these types of stories fit into what is known as "redemptive narratives" once i was lost, but now i'm found. It's Aristotle's Poetics, it's Jesus coming out of the desert, and now it's reenacted, over and over, on daytime television. By now it's nearly hardwired into us, but is it possible that this same narrative structure is now being used, by some, as a justification for the use of torture? The idea being that if we push the prisoner a little more, if we don't give up when it becomes unpleasant, if we can ignore the screams, the disfigurement, the voice in our heads, then the answer will come, the answer that will save the world. And if the tortured dies in your hands, without giving the answer, will this mean you were wrong, or merely that the technique must be refined? Or if the answer he gives is worthless, if it is a lie, will that mean we must push a little further, hold on a little longer? Force his head under water? Make his eyes electric? Does it mean that the doctors must be brought in, the feeding tubes inserted, the body kept alive? And if we continue to cling to this way of telling our stories, this fairy tale, long after we've found our way out of the woods, at what point can we then be said to be under the effect of some spell, some enchantment?
Recommended by Jeremy, Powell's City of Books
"Nick Flynn organizes his second memoir, The Ticking Is the Bomb, into the same short, piercing moments that won him a PEN award for Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. This time Flynn leads the reader through the shifting landscapes of present-day Istanbul and New York as well as his swiftly changing sense of his own past, present, and future. The memoir refuses the expectations of the genre, and Flynn warns the reader of this before the narrative begins with a disclaimer: 'This is a work of non-fiction, but it is also full of dreams, speculations, memories, and shadows.'" Julie Babcock, Rain Taxi (read the entire Rain Taxi review)
Synopses & Reviews
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 those photos.
Haunted by a history of addiction, a relationship with his unsteady father, 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.
"Award-winning poet/author Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) uses his daughter's imminent birth as a springboard to examine personal and political shakiness. Flynn jumps back and forth in covering his rocky childhood (his parents: a distraught, hard-living single mother; an ex-con, mentally wrecked father who was largely absent from Flynn's childhood), his struggles with women and sobriety, and adjusting to his daughter's arrival. Throughout this swirl of heartache and introspection, Flynn becomes obsessed with torture and America's acceptance of it after the infamous photos from Abu Ghraib are released. It's clear that Flynn is lost in his own life, and that he needs to find himself, or at least some stability, not just for his daughter's benefit but for his own. The accompanying narrative structure may isolate those who prefer a more straight-ahead style — the poetic interludes and scattered focus are sometimes more distracting than artistic — but 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 (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"A striking collection of memories that will mystify, enlighten, trouble and amaze." Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
"Another Nick Flynn book means another marvel. The Ticking Is the Bomb is bold and brave and the prose will blow you away, as well his insights on love and being. Behold." Anthony Swafford, author of Jarhead
"A gleaming, brutal, beautiful book. As I read it, I kept thinking of all the people I wanted to give it to." Aimee Bender, author of The Girl in the Flammable Skirt
"Reading this book is like experiencing a very skilled surgeon performing an operation on his own insecurities and new found fragile maturity. The written operation may be painful but watching the scars heal on the page is a true delight." John Waters, director and author
This dazzling, searing, and inventive memoir from the author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City explores the challenges of becoming a father in the age of terror.
A dazzling, searing, and inventive memoir about becoming a father in the age of terror.
Advance praise for The Ticking Is the Bomb:
“Reading this book is like experiencing a very skilled surgeon performing an operation on his own insecurities and newfound fragile maturity. The written operation may be painful, but watching the scars heal on the page is a true delight.” —John Waters
“Another Nick Flynn book means another marvel. The Ticking Is the Bomb is bold and brave, and the prose will blow you away, as will his insights on love and being. Behold.” —Anthony Swofford, author of Jarhead
“One of Nick Flynn’s valuable talents is finding words for the unsayable. In this stunning, impressionistic meditation on accountability and the dual nature of human behavior, he is especially eloquent when showing how the personal becomes political, and how the political is deeply personal.” —Amy Hempel, author of The Dog of Marriage
“ ‘Seeing something that everyone else insists isn’t there’ is Nick Flynn’s gift as a writer. No one else could have reflected with such white heat, such searing intelligence, on the photos of Abu Ghraib, while following streams of thought on his own tangled family history and the coming birth of his child. Every page is eye opening, and the book is beautiful.” —Joan Silber, National Book Award finalist for Ideas of Heaven
Praise for Another Bullshit Night in Suck City:
“Flynn’s talents are considerable—he has a compelling voice and a wry sense of humor, especially about himself.” —Vendela Vida, New York Times Book Review
“[A] stunningly beautiful new memoir. . . . A near-perfect work of literature.” —Stephen Elliott, San Francisco Chronicle
About the Author
Nick Flynn is the award-winning author of Some Ether, Blind Huber, and Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award. He teaches at the University of Houston.
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