on July 19, 2005
[...]It's tough to review a book called "Another Bull---t Night in S--k City" without using profanities, you know?
Which brings me to the one lamentable thing about the book: an unfortunate title, which may drive potential readers away from a great read. Though the title prepares you for something like Charles Bukowski, this book is another type of bird, entirely. It is a remarkably decent book written by a conscientious human being who also happens to be a conscientious writer who cares greatly about his craft.
Nick Flynn laces together the frayed ends of his mother's and estranged father's failings, along with desultory tales of his own early carelessness. Life in Boston in the 80's is about keeping afloat. As Nick retreats to living aboard an old pleasure boat, he watches his father steadily sinking in a tide of alcohol abuse. Nick assiduously avoids his father until circumstances bring them together at the Pine Street Inn, a homeless shelter where Nick is employed, and Nick's father becomes a resident.
The irretrievably damaged father, Jonathan Flynn, wanders these pages like Banquo's ghost. Even in his youth a flim-flam man, Jonathan Flynn is not likeable. He is semi-coherent, devious, and deluded, but he is Nick's father and Nick cannot run from him anymore than he could run away from himself. This, then, is the story of Nick's coming to grips with his father, and finding his own purpose.
Nick Flynn's achievement is that he writes what should be a very depressing story in an undepressing way. There is not an ounce of self-pity in these pages, and the words all ring true. The twilight world of the homeless is evoked, with great compassion.
Would that all the clueless 'go-getters' of the world had this book. It would enrich their lives.
on September 18, 2005
I've just finished page 341, the last page. It's midnight here in these Connemara hills and I can't rest. I'm unsettled. I need to write something about this book. But what? Do I love it? Do I hate it? In the beginning I felt like quitting after every ten pages, then continuing after the next ten pages, and so on, and so on. I felt myself both repulsed and seduced. Eventually I gave in. Gave in to Nick Flynn's words, sentences, story, language, world, universe. The universe of Nick Flynn's disfunctional family: his alcoholic, delusional, absentee father and his suicidal mother, form the foundation of this memoir. In large measure it's a journey in search of his father, a man who lives by his wits, fuelled by alcohol, driven by the delusion/fear of writing the 'Great American Novel' (with a million dollar advance and the Nobel prize certainties in that delusion), to eventual homelessness on the street. It's also Nick Flynn is search of himself. But it's none of the above. It's truly a work of literature that sets out, on every page, to capture, and lose, the mystery of the human condition. It's surreal, a glimpse at a parallel universe that we may all be living. This book finds a kinship with Joyce and Beckett, and it's no wonder that Nick Flynn chooses an excerpt from Beckett's 'Endgame' to open the story: HAMM: Scoundrel! Why did you engender me? NAGG: I don't know. HAMM: What? Why didn't you know? NAGG: That it'd be you.
You will be haunted by this story long after you've finished reading it.
on August 2, 2005
I love Nick Flynn's writing style. He is a poet who has written a book about his life, and mostly about his father's life, who fancies himself a poet also (though the jury is still out on that).
Nick worked in a homeless shelter for years where he ran across his father who was either living on the streets or in the shelter. His father eventually gets a little apartment and Nick visits him occasionally to check up on him. The conversations with his father are hilarious -- although that might not have been the intention.
The book is well written. It does not attempt to make excuses for the father's alcoholism or homelessness. It also doesn't attempt to make excuses for the fact that Nick did not pro-actively get his father off the streets. It simply relays the facts in a straight-foward manner of an off-beat and bizarre life.
Bottom line: Excellent book and quick read. The book reads like poetry; it is beautifully written.
on September 3, 2005
Nick Flynn has been dealt a cruel hand. This memoir tells of the author's troubled relationship with his alcoholic father, his mother's suicide, and the tendency of all the family members to get caught up in criminal activities and drug addiction...and to live marginal, unsettled lives. Flynn's father spends many of his adult years living on the streets of Boston. Father and son reconnect because the son works in a homeless shelter. The father claims to be a poet and to have written a ground-breaking novel that Little Brown is prepared to offer him $2 million to publish (or $4 million, depending on the time of day and the degree of his alcoholic grandiosity). The literary connection between father and son is something that seems to haunt and frighten the younger Flynn. In the end, he seems to recognize that he is somehow his father's scribe and that the memoir he is writing is the "story" his father never mananged to get down on paper. "That book somehow fell to me, the son, to write. My father's uncredited, noncompliant ghostwriter. Not enough to be stuck with his body, to be stuck with his name, but to become his secretary, his handmaid, caught up in folly, a doomed project, to write about a book that doesn't, that didn't ever, that may not even , exist" (p. 322).
what is ironic, and somehow true-seeming, is that people who come from the most disengaged families turn out to be the ones who become the most enmeshed with their parents and who come most dangerously close to repeating their parents' mistakes. Flynn has insight to his family dynamics, but this doesn't seem to help him avoid the poinlessness of numbing himself out on drugs and alcohol or from forming anything but superficial, need-based relationships with women. He does seem to progress from open fear and hate of his father to an authentic, but realistic sense of compassion for the man who was never there for him.
ANOTHER NIGHT is pretty much a chronological account of Flynn's experiences, but it is written in various styles. Some of these work nicely and bring a welcome change of pace and infusion of energy to what is otherwise a depressing storyline. In a chapter called "Same Again" he does riffs on the varioius cliches about drinking you are likely to hear in a bar on any given night. The change of genre he does in the chapter "Santa Lear" seemed less successful. Here, he depicts as drama the exchanges between a number of drunks doing seasonal work as Santa Clauses and their "daughters" (social workers?). But overall, Flynn is a keen observer with a writing style that is poetic without being florid or unnecessarily terse. I'm curious to see what he'll produce next.
on December 29, 2005
This memoir is a naked telling of the author's life from childhood to the present, but it's even more about his father, a con man who suffers from delusions of grandeur. Flynn didn't meet his father until the age of 27: the elder Flynn simply left home one day and never came back. Life wasn't easy for him, his older brother and their mother after that.
The void left from the father-son relationship that never was is the primary focus of the volume and even though it's clear that Flynn wants to know and understand his father, he makes no serious moves to be closer to him. Even when the father becomes homeless on the streets of Boston, his son makes no effort to offer him shelter.
Flynn tells his amazing tale in short, episodic bursts, delivering the story in thoughtful, well-executed vignettes. For many years, they are of a young man adrift. Flynn spends summers living in a houseboat, occasionally working construction and in a homeless shelter in the city. Along the way he plies himself with alcohol and experiments with any number of illicit substances. His mother, with whom he has taken to sharing drinks, takes her own life at the end of her struggle with drugs, drink and depression.
One would expect a book like this to be filled with brooding about what could have been, or with guilt or self-doubt. Interestingly, it's not. The author lays out his life and doesn't ask the reader to feel sorry for him. Although a lot of details are sketchy, he speaks as though he has hurt and been hurt in equal measure.
The book is also surprisingly funny in many places, and Flynn's delivery may remind some of the winning wiseacre David Sedaris. While the material is gritty and brutally honest, the writing is so good that it's hard to put down. Highly recommended.
on March 1, 2005
Between the title and cover-art I was intrigued enough to pick this book up without knowing anything about it and start reading. And I didn't put it down until I read the last page (twice! It can't be over yet!). This book is remarkably frank, vivid and compassionate, all that and without being a sappy sloppy sob story...Thank you, Mr. Flynn. This is a story that I suspect is lurking behind many more people than who would care to admit it. So quick are most to glorify or twist their trauma into some ego-fanning, Oprah couch-crowding tale that this book reminds you that "Yes!" there is someone out there willing (and able) to tell a brutal truth, in unflinching detail, of a life that isn't edited into a honey-glazed after-school special. This memoir doesn't lose your attention for a nanosecond, in part because it incorporates diverse story-telling techniques ranging from nibbles of literary references, to snatches of songs, to poignant & fresh analogies, to a stage scene that reads like "No Exit" meets "Springtime for Hitler". The pinnacle of this story though is the way in which Flynn is able to illustrate a life that tilts out of the Norm and flows into the formidable Sea of the Unknown. A reminder to consider that maybe within the shadows of Corporate America are just men & women wrestling with their own pride, ego, ambitions, accomplishments, vices and a rudimentary refusal of conformity, which had led them to life outside of the box, literally.
Nicholas Flynn is another young man in a long line of children who have lost a parent to the seduction of an alcoholic haze. Like others, Flynn had no intention of following in his father's footsteps, yet he repeats the same youthful indiscretions that lead to alcoholism, all the more anecdotal proof that genetics play an important part from one generation to another, given the right circumstances.
The difference is that the son has found a powerful voice, one that his father aspired to, but lost in the bottom of a bottle. That young Nick nurtured this gift and eventually found his expression is both inspiring and painful, for Nick's own journey has been riddled by the legacy of the alcoholic: loss of identity, confusion, lack of opportunity or resources and the life of a fringe-dweller. This is the legacy of father to son.
Maybe Nick's mother should have recognized Johnathan's flaws when they first met, but he had that charismatic charm so common among talented young men before they succumb to drink. Nick's values are essentially self-taught, a combination of his own escapism and an urge toward survival. No one would blame Nick if he turned away from his father forever, given only those few sparse words and fewer letters over the years. But Nick is not his father; he is a young man with a vast reservoir of compassion, coupled with that faint yearning every boy has to be acknowledged, even loved, by his father.
Nick's journey is one that defies reason and speaks to the core of humanity; his trials are many and grievous, yet he avoids the steep downward spiral Johnathan chooses. One could argue that the path is the same, the son taking the longer road, but in the same direction. Yet Nick's accomplishments prove otherwise.
Harrowingly honest, this memoir is a fast road into the mouth of hell. Many have traveled here to meet their demise, among the flotsam and jetsam of society's rejects. That both father and son remain close to their roots speaks to an early identification of youthful dreams. It is no accident that Nick works in a homeless shelter at a time when his father finally comes within reach. The shelter offers Nick a place to connect with his better self, skirting the edge of his fear of becoming one of these lost men, like Johnathan, whose dreams have turned from hope to lies and distortion.
Nick's life journey is littered with landmines; that he has written such a remarkable testament to self-discovery and the inherent strength of the human spirit, no matter how deeply scarred. Both familiar and real, there are many who know Nick's story intimately. What is remarkable is that such an old tale of self-destruction and the annihilation of family can have a fresh voice to speak yet another truth. This memoir is a gift to others who struggle, like Nick, for a healthy life and family identification. Luan Gaines/2004.
on January 3, 2006
I can't but echo what so many other reviewers have said in praising Nick Flynn's account of working with the homeless, including his own father from whom he had been separated from early infancy, and with dealing with the impact of his mother's suicide. A unique contribution to our understanding of what it means to be down and out in contemporary America.
on June 27, 2007
This memoir should be required reading for any urban dweller - or anyone in the United States for that matter. It is rare that an author so shamelessly portrays the homeless and their plight without editorializing the reasons behind their situation or waxing grandiose or pathetic. It is honest, painful and vivid. I am so thankful to have read this novel.
on November 4, 2005
This is a story, ultimately, of redemption. Flynn's a poet, and the language here is stark and strong. Sometimes he gets a little high-falutin, like the chapter that's all one word sentences, but overall he's not sentimental, and not too tough either-you get the sense that he's just trying to get his book out-and it's probably not a whole lot different that the book that was basically killing his dad all those years.
So many memoirs are out there written by people who don't actually have a story--Flynn does.