Part memoir, part social commentary, part philosophical inquiry, US writer Nick Flynn’s book builds on his earlier autobiography, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. As with that work, Flynn’s memories of his mother (who committed suicide when he was young) and his turbulent relationship with his alcoholic father feature strongly. Structured around the months leading up to his daughter’s birth, Flynn’s narrative cartwheels back and forth through his life, stretching back to his childhood, his work in a homeless shelter in Boston, and his travels as an itinerant lecturer and successful author.
Initially, I found the book’s baggy structure and solipsistic focus irritating – despite his chaotic upbringing and literary lifestyle, Flynn has as many boring days and banal thoughts as the rest of us. I was also deeply unconvinced by his quest for redemption through his baby daughter, and his charmless habit of presenting universal emotions as if newly minted by his own thought-processes.
However, the book comes into its own with Flynn’s consideration of Abu Ghraib and other US ‘black sites’. He examines the arguments in favour of torture advanced by politicians, military and media and, with insight and precision, uses their own flawed logic and morality to demolish their shoddy justifications.
It is these philosophical inquiries into the darker corners of the human psyche, rather than any dazzling insights into Flynn’s personal life that form the emotional core of this book. Although we could have done with more of the former and considerably less of the latter, The Ticking is the Bomb still has merit and deserves close and careful reading.