Patrick Brown's Reviews > The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir

The Ticking Is the Bomb by Nick Flynn
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's review
Feb 08, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: memoirsandbios
Read from January 24 to February 08, 2010

There are a few books I'd like to mail to President Obama, not because I hope he'll read them and talk about them, and therefore get everyone else to read them (though that'd be nice) but because I think they say something about an important issue in a way that I simply can't. I could write Obama a letter about torture, about how I feel about it being used in my name, but it wouldn't achieve half of what Flynn does in this bizarre, floating memoir.

Somehow, despite enormous odds, Flynn manages to tie together several disparate threads here -- his relationship to his parents (his mother committed suicide when he was in his teens while his father is an alcoholic ex-con who lived on the streets for years), his partner's impending pregnancy and the tangled route they took to being lovers, and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. In the hands of another writer, I might have found myself craving more of the personal and less the political (or vice versa), but Flynn does the balancing act, in part because he refuses to commit to the strictures of time, weaving together all the different pieces into a whole that is much larger than the sum of its already considerable parts.

As one might expect from a poet, Flynn writes beautiful sentences and heartbreaking paragraphs. This is maybe the ideal book to read in tiny pieces, a bit here and there, as the mood strikes. Without a doubt, my favorite piece is "All living things have shoulders," about a scrap of paper he once found on the floor of a public school in Harlem. There are some incredible revelations in this book that Flynn delivers almost as asides (that his father may have been involved in the CIA's notorious MK Ultra program while serving time in federal prisons), and the notes at the end of the book are worth reading, particularly for their sense of humor, a welcome reprieve at the end of a very heavy, very emotional book.
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Reading Progress

01/24/2010 page 55
19.43% "Nick Flynn's life is both heartbreaking and envy-inspiring. Interesting combo."
01/28/2010 page 125
44.17% ""All living things have shoulders" is going to be my mantra from now on. Incredible."
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