Nick Flynn’s moving second memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb is, at its simplest, a meditation on the shadow. In it, he focuses primarily on the idea of torture, combined with his apprehension about his pending fatherhood. As he explores these topics, however, the subjects include his past relationships, his family history (including his suicide mother and alcoholic, homeless father), and his own wrongdoings.
Flynn was one of several artists invited to witness accounts of ex-Abu Ghraib inmates, many of whom were tortured and depicted in the infamous photographs. While Flynn makes clear that these brutal political and military acts appall him, his stance is far from righteous, as he imagines the humanity of both the tortured and the torturers. This perspective makes the memoir bigger than his own life or a single political argument—it becomes a reflection on the nature of fear and its power and on personal culpability as a citizen and a human. Brief, potent chapters stack and overlap with expertise pacing and irresistible intrigue. Although Flynn analyzes his own troubled childhood, his tone is never self pitying or sentimental. Instead, his prose is clear and vibrant, interspersed with passages so poetic they are breath-taking, such as this one:
“Some mornings you wake up fully in your body, and you know this is all there is–the air, the shape your body makes in the air, your hand, the skin that covers your hand, the air that covers your skin, the light that fills the air, a few colors in the light, this one thought, this dream dissolving…. Sometimes, if you lay still, you can feel the air entering each cell, sometimes you can feel the blood in your lips. Sometimes, if you lay very still, you can feel the whole web tremble.”— Nick Flynn, The Ticking Is the Bomb: A Memoir