WHAT MAKES NICK TICK? Flynn’s memoir, unflinchingly honest, takes a hard look at the dark and dangerous world.
In his powerful new memoir, The Ticking Is the Bomb (W.W. Norton), Scituate native Nick Flynn recounts a conversation he had with a man in Turkey.
My first child will be born in January, I told Amir. A girl. He narrowed his eyes and smiled, as if I had just come into focus.
You don't realize it, but you know who "Amir" (not his real name) is. Or at least, almost certainly, you've seen a photograph of him. He's the man — naked, cowering, his face a twisted mask of pain — being dragged on a leash across the concrete floor of Abu Ghraib prison by US Army Private Lynndie England. In the moments just before and after that photo was taken, his face was rubbed into a puddle of urine and he was sodomized with a broom.
Flynn met Amir in Istanbul, in 2007, interviewing him in a hotel room, alongside lawyers and human-rights workers. He was drawn there, despite the considerable travel expense — and the fact that his partner was pregnant with their first child — by a powerful, almost primal urge to meet and speak with the men abused at that infamous Iraqi jail.
The journey to Turkey, Flynn — who reads at Berklee's Café 939 on Wednesday — tells the Phoenix, was "about my own wrestling . . . breaking down my own unacknowledged stereotypes." And, he says of his interview, he was "surprised that I was surprised" to find that "sitting across from this man and hearing him talk in this way that was measured and reasonable, and even humorous at times" provided "much more of a human interaction than I'd anticipated."
Whether he's penning plays or prose or poetry, Flynn is a writer who's constantly searching, probing, prying. His acclaimed debut book of poetry, Some Ether (Graywolf, 2000), plumbed his feelings about his mother's suicide. His stunning first memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (W.W. Norton, 2004) — slated to be made into a film starring Robert De Niro and Casey Affleck — used experimental structure to explore conflicting emotions about his alcoholic father, who jarringly re-entered Flynn's life as a "blustering, damaged man" bedding down at the Pine Street Inn, where Nick then worked.
Interrogating his own suppositions, sorting through his deep and tangled thoughts, Flynn's work evokes Seamus Heaney's famous words: "Between my finger and my thumb/The squat pen rests./I'll dig with it."
The Ticking Is the Bomb is unflinchingly honest, a "memoir of bewilderment" that deftly excavates — via dozens upon dozens of short, fine-tuned, imagistic vignettes — Flynn's "unquiet mind," whirring with thoughts about his past (his parents, his lovers, his own struggles with addiction), and his optimistic trepidation about future fatherhood.
But, more specifically, it also pans out to cast a hard look at the dark and dangerous world into which his daughter would soon be born. A world where innocent men are tortured by democratic countries.