In 2007, writer Nick Flynn was one of a handful of artists asked by a team of lawyers to act as witnesses in the interviewing of Abu Ghraib ex-detainees. In his second memoir The Ticking Is the Bomb, Brooklyn-based Flynn works his way through the bewildering experience of preparing for fatherhood in the midst of facing this dark side of human nature.
Ticking is difficult to summarize. More than a few of its chapters are only a page long, describing a dream, childhood experience, philosophical pondering, or recent memory, eventually fusing together into one literary melting pot that, for brevity’s sake, we’ll just call a memoir. Author, playwright and poet Nick Flynn quietly stepped out of the room his young daughter was sleeping in to share some details by phone with WW about his recently released book, works in progress and how he would have handled 9/11.
WW: Describe The Ticking Is the Bomb for a potential reader.
Nick Flynn: It’s sort of this meditation on fatherhood and torture and bewilderment. It was originally called A Memoir of Bewilderment. Doubt is privileged over certainty in this book. I don’t really have a concise way to describe it, but if I could’ve said it concisely I wouldn’t have had to write the book.
What kind of reactions have you gotten from the people you wrote about so bluntly in your memoir?
Well, my brother is over in the next room reading the book right now. I just asked him how it was going and he said it was good (laughs). Sam [author of The End of Faith, which condones the practice of torture in certain situations] Harris hasn’t sent me a note of congratulations yet.
This book was written in a pretty unique style. Why didn’t you use a more linear form?
The structure of this wasn’t a choice. It organically came about from the writing. I was doing all of these readings about Abu Ghraib and torture, and these images from my own past and subconscious would float up in the middle of that, and I would take note of them. Patterns would emerge, and following these trails intuitively created this ball of energy. The structure of this book is a ball of energy with each different image being a thread that leads back to the center of it. It’s a strange structure.
What should the U.S. have done differently after 9/11?
I think they probably should have turned the site of the World Trade Center into a center for understanding all religions, or something, rather than just making it another monument to capitalism. There was this moment of compassion towards America, and we just ruined it by allowing our darkest nature to reign. We blew it.
Your book dealt mostly with the Bush administration. What are your thoughts on Obama?
He’s doing a lot of good things; he’s in a very difficult situation. But if we’re just talking about torture, then I’d say I’m disappointed with him, because he hasn’t dismantled any of what Bush set up yet.
OK, enough politics. Your previous memoir, Another Bullshit Night In Suck City, is being turned into a movie. How is it going?
It’ll probably start pre-production in August or something. I dunno if the full cast is together yet, but we do have De Niro supposedly playing my father and Casey Affleck playing...me.
What kind of projects are you working on now?
I have a book of poetry coming out toward the beginning of next year from Graywolf Press. And there’s another book...I worked on a documentary film called Darwin’s Nightmare, and I’m writing a book about the making of it. There will be three memoirs—a trilogy— and then I’ll stop writing memoirs. This will be the third one.
All right, what should Portland know about you before you get here? Anything you want to tell current or potential readers?
Tell them we’ll all go out for tacos together after the reading, or something (laughs).
READ: Poet Nick Flynn reads from The Ticking Is the Bomb at Powell’s City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St, 228-4651. 7:30 pm Friday, Jan. 29. Free.