The Ticking Is the Bomb

( 4 )

Overview

"A beautiful, intelligent book that renders pain both ordinary and extraordinary into art."—Susanna Sonnenberg, San Francisco Chronicle
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 ...

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The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir

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Overview

"A beautiful, intelligent book that renders pain both ordinary and extraordinary into art."—Susanna Sonnenberg, San Francisco Chronicle
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.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times
“What does it mean that America tortures? . . . This is the question that haunts Nick Flynn's devastating new book . . . the best passages here are simply astonishing. Flynn writes with great tenderness about the terrors and joys of fatherhood . . . a disquieting masterpiece.”— Steve Almond
Time Out New York
“[Flynn's] efforts to reconcile the tattered pieces of his life—his determination to find love and redemption in a world gone mad—feel gutsy, hard won, and utterly true.”
Vanity Fair
“[Flynn's] search for the meaning of fatherhood in the era of terror is remarkable not only for the nimbleness with which he pulls these threads together—observations of former prisoners are woven with meditations on loss—but also for its empathy and unshrinking honesty.”— Elissa Schappell
Elissa Schappell - Vanity Fair
“[Flynn's] search for the meaning of fatherhood in the era of terror is remarkable not only for the nimbleness with which he pulls these threads together—observations of former prisoners are woven with meditations on loss—but also for its empathy and unshrinking honesty.”
Steve Almond - Los Angeles Times
“What does it mean that America tortures? . . . This is the question that haunts Nick Flynn's devastating new book . . . the best passages here are simply astonishing. Flynn writes with great tenderness about the terrors and joys of fatherhood . . . a disquieting masterpiece.”
Vanity Fair - Elissa Schappell
“[Flynn's] search for the meaning of fatherhood in the era of terror is remarkable not only for the nimbleness with which he pulls these threads together—observations of former prisoners are woven with meditations on loss—but also for its empathy and unshrinking honesty.”
Los Angeles Times - Steve Almond
“What does it mean that America tortures? . . . This is the question that haunts Nick Flynn's devastating new book . . . the best passages here are simply astonishing. Flynn writes with great tenderness about the terrors and joys of fatherhood . . . a disquieting masterpiece.”
Publishers Weekly
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. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Memoir as meditation on love and loss, birth and death, good and evil, from PEN Award winner Flynn (Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, 2005, etc.). In 2007, as the author awaited the birth of his daughter, he became obsessed with the stories of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He felt that his daughter was only as real as the sonogram images of her, the tortured only as real as the now infamous photos of their naked bodies mired in humiliation and pain. This would change. Maeve Lulu was born, and Flynn traveled to Istanbul to witness the testimonies of ex-detainees of Abu Ghraib. Between his daughter's imminent birth and his confrontation with the tortured, Flynn became lost-"Everyone, if they live long enough, will lose their way at some point"-and, above all, bewildered-"bewilderment of waking up, my hand on Inez's belly, as the fine points of waterboarding are debated on public radio." His only way back was to remember, and so he wrote of memories-some long ago, some fresh wounds, some clear in their meaning, some as elusive as wind. Some memories led to other memories, while others stood alone. He remembered a mother who committed suicide at age 42, a father who was lost to alcohol and then prison at 45, returning to Flynn's life a ruined man in need of care. He remembered lovers he could not love and feared that when Maeve was born, "I will look at her and not feel a thing." The author summoned the image of the dragon in Paradise Lost and wondered if it might consume him, the torturers he hates, or both. Flynn recalls and records in a stunningly beautiful cascade of images. In the end, he realizes that only love was real: "The only miracle is now. Lulu is the only miracle."And that was enough. A striking collection of memories that will mystify, enlighten, trouble and amaze. Author tour to New York, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles
The Barnes & Noble Review
Fury may be among the most compelling emotions, but few writers are capable of harnessing its energy. The passion that propels one to pick up the pen is likely to impatiently sweep aside fundamentals like logic or style. All concern for the reader disappears in the immediacy of recording. Nick Flynn's The Ticking Is the Bomb brims with outrage -- at his government, his genes, his predilections, his very self. And when he's not raging, he is fearful, depressed, or aghast.

But Flynn is among those rare souls able to direct the course of his wrath: a poet by training and a Buddhist by disposition, he knows when to gun the engine, letting his passion infuse the prose, and when to pull back, casting an analytical eye on all he sees. In this memoir he has produced an angry book that's about more than just anger.

The book's occasion would be mundane, if not raised by the author to white-hot intensity: On the eve of fatherhood, Flynn contemplates how he can bring a child into a family such as his, with its history of addiction and madness, and a world such as ours, filled as it is with horror and heartbreak. Still, the baby is on her way, regardless. He intends to greet her with love, not gloom; to do so, in the book and in life, requires an extraordinary amount of control.

Like his earlier account of his troubled family history, the engrossing and much lauded Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, Flynn's second book relies on prose poem-like vignettes which bounce the reader around in time, from scene to memory to meditation to quotation. Each book rivets with a pure, unfiltered honesty. In Another Night, Flynn writes movingly about his parents: his father's alcoholism and his mother's suicide, which took place when he was in his early twenties, are the pair of dark stars around which a stoically anguished narrative orbits. After sporadic contact, suddenly his father turns up at the homeless shelter in Boston where Flynn works. That book attempts to deal with this renewed relationship as well as Flynn's aborted relationship with his mother.

The Ticking Is the Bomb evidences some of the same concerns, particularly those surrounding filial inheritance. He worries that he won't be able to love his child, or that his love won't be enough, or that he might disappear like his own dad did. "If I've told you this already," Flynn notes, "forgive me . . . before this is over it's likely I'll tell you again," invoking the Buddhist concept of samsara (the tendency we have to fixate on suffering, going over a painful situation again and again in our minds). Yet The Ticking Is the Bomb reaches further, beyond what it means to be a wayward son of broken parents and into what it means to be an American adult at the start of the twenty-first century.

In 2005, Flynn won an award from the PEN Foundation, for Another Night. At some point that evening, he met another award recipient, the writer Sam Harris. A photo is taken of the two shaking hands. Later Flynn read Harris's award-winning book, The End of Faith, and discovered that nestled within Harris's discussion of religion was an endorsement of torture. "I become, seemingly overnight, a crank," Flynn explains, someone deeply devoted to anti-torture activism. Indeed, The Ticking Is the Bomb opens with a characteristic juxtaposition: a description of the ultrasound image through which Flynn sees his daughter for the first time immediately evokes the photographs taken at Abu Ghraib and released in 2004.

Eventually Flynn travels to Istanbul to help interview ex-detainees, including some of those who appeared in the infamous images. About the book that begins to result from these experiences, Flynn writes: "Sometimes, if asked, I'll say that I'm writing about the way photographs are a type of dream, about how shadows can end up resembling us, and sometimes I'll say I'm writing a memoir of bewilderment, and just leave it at that, but what I mean is the bewilderment of waking up, my hand on Inez's belly, as the fine points of waterboarding are debated on public radio."

Terrified about his past, horrified by the present, Flynn is nevertheless absolutely unafraid to bare his life. This is a memoir, after all. He admits to being in love with two women, to slipping back into drugs and alcohol after ten years of sobriety, to using his own passivity as a weapon, meticulously calibrated to force others to do the acting and decision making. Here too is a man who let his dad sleep on the streets while he drove a van for a homeless shelter and lived in a giant industrial loft. He blames himself for the death of another homeless man. He interviews his mothers' ex-boyfriends and quotes from her suicide note. And, finally, he portrays himself as someone who refuses to be complacent about torture, a stance which is altogether much rarer than many readers might comfortably admit.

"By the time I'm nine I know the world is a dangerous place," Flynn writes in Another Night. The subsequent decades only deepen the realization. Discipline helps save him from becoming a statistic: "I swam for as long as it took, until I had a good thought, just one good thought," he says about a particularly tough time discussed in The Ticking Is the Bomb. The act of thinking helps save him as well. Naturally he cherishes the good thoughts, searches for them, and holds onto them for as long as he can. But his willingness to think the bad thoughts and deal with what he calls the "darkness" remains his greatest asset. He publicly denounces PEN for condoning torture by giving Harris an award, and he categorically refuses to blithely follow in his parents' footsteps. Perhaps Flynn is too smart to acquiesce to mind games or political doubletalk, although it's as likely that he's simply too stubborn.

"Here, God says, here is your cupful of days," begins a koan-like section. "If you don't believe in God, you still get your cupful of days." Reading about how Flynn spends his cupful can be dismaying. It can also make us more carefully consider how we spend our own. -- Jessica Allen

Jessica Allen has written for Bitch, The Forward, The Onion AV Club, and The Washington Post. She lives in New York.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393338867
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/3/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 553,635
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Flynn is the author of Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, winner of the PEN/Martha Albrand Award, and The Ticking Is the Bomb. He divides his time between Houston and Brooklyn.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 2, 2011

    a good read

    a good book that deals with topical issues that tie in with the birth of his daughter. flynn has a fantastic way to his writing but there were times that i wondered if i was dealing with an unreliable narrator. he broaches certain topics but fails to tie up those loose ends. still, i recommend this book. decide for yourself.

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    Posted March 10, 2010

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