Ryan Healy's Reviews > The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir

The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn
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's review
Nov 12, 2011

it was amazing

The Ticking is the Bomb: A Memoir by Nick Flynn
W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. , 2010

In his latest book, The Ticking is the Bomb, critically acclaimed memoirist Nick Flynn explores exactly what it means to be a man, an American, and a parent in the violent and tumultuous world that we live in today. Bouncing around through time – but always making note of when each chapter takes place – Flynn deals with such powerful issues as confronting our deepest fears, government mandated torture, and death with such gravitas that the reader will hardly be weighed down by the heavy material but, instead, will find themselves reconsidering exactly how they view the world.

The events that Flynn shares from his life vary dramatically. Throughout the memoir, he recalls the time when he was romantically involved with two women and how he reconciled the fact that he loved both of them while also exploring a different kind of love in the relationship he has with his alcoholic and deeply troubled father (who was the subject of Flynn’s previous work Another Bullshit Night in Suck City) in recent years. There are also several scenes that recall his early life, before his mother committed suicide, and how she raised him, switching between respecting her parenting abilities and wondering what it was that drove her to take her own life.

Flynn spends the majority of the book recalling the horrific photographs that were released from abu ghraib, depicting groups of prisoners naked and tortured by American soldiers. In the different flashbacks, he discusses the time when he was called upon to listen to the stories of the prisoners from the photographs and to help spread the word about what happened to them and how that impacted him. There is a powerful segment in the last half of the memoir when Flynn describes a trip to Vietnam that he took with his stepfather – who served in the Vietnam War – and the toll that it had on the former veteran that serves as a great allegory for the impact that abu ghraib has had on Americans, for the overwhelming guilt that comes with knowing what our government is capable of.

As an aspiring writer, something that I really admired about Flynn’s memoir is the way that he wove historical, mythical, and biblical references throughout the book. Between harrowing tales of his time working at a homeless shelter and recalling his relationship with a troubled woman, Flynn explores the tale of Proteus, an amorphous being that can answer any question you ask it so long as you can maintain your grip on the being while it transforms into the thing you fear the most. It truly inspired me how he chose a somewhat obscure myth and made it incredibly relevant to his own life, ultimately discussing what it means to be afraid and how we can overcome our deepest fears.

I also found it completely fascinating how Flynn bounced through time, telling several stories in multiple segments that are scattered between the covers. We don’t how Flynn chose between the two women he loved or why he made the decision he did until towards the end of the book, just like how we get the stories of the prisoners of abu ghraib at different points. Yet he completely avoids making his memoir feel disjointed, somehow making sure that each memory is connected to the other which helps the book flow from start to finish.

Overall, The Ticking is the Bomb is a fantastic exploration of what goes through the mind of a father-to-be and how he deals with the terrifying world that we live and the fact that he will soon be raising a child in it. Flynn’s style is conversational yet still intellectual, allowing readers of any age to really grasp the message and the story that he is trying to send. Suffice it to say, Flynn has succeeded in passing on his life lessons not only to his daughter but to his readers as well.

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