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Books–Another Bullshit Day in Suck City November 6, 2006

Posted by caveblogem in Books, Other, writing.
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Another Bullshit Day in Suck City is a memoir by Nick Flynn, who I’ve never read before.  And I guess I should explain a little about the title, because there isn’t really any explanation in the book about it, other than dark hints in an afterword about how it might affect sales of the book.  In Massachusetts the word “bullshit” has a different meaning than in other parts of the known universe.  In fact, it is actually a different part of speech.  Everywhere else in the U.S. the word is a noun.  It is what the politician just uttered, or what someone’s argument amounted to.  In Massachusetts it is an adjective adverb meaning “angry to the point of near-insanity.”  An example sentence might look like this: “He went completely bullshit.”  The meaning of the title of this dark memoir is thus not entirely clear to me, although it comes from the mouth of the author’s alcoholic father about two-thirds of the way through the book.  I thought at first that Suck City was Boston, but I’m not really even sure about that anymore. 

The book’s about Nick’s family.  His Mother committed suicide, and perhaps he blames himself.  His father left his life early on and he later encountered him as a homeless person while he (the author) was working at Boston’s Pine Street Inn (a shelter).  He has a variety of odd experiences and abuses alcohol and other drugs, goes to college for a while. 

I should say that I really liked this book, in case that doesn’t come through in this post.  (This happens to me quite frequently.  I seem to separate my analysis from my actual consumption of a book without even thinking about it.)  The author has that skill that seems absolutely necessary in writers who chronicle their upsetting lives, which is the ability to watch a train wreck and not just stare emptily but take it all in and remember parts of it very clearly.  As he puts it in the work itself in a scene where one of his Mother’s boyfriends is showing him and his brother a photographs album:

“on the next page a village is on fire.  Corpses next, pages of corpses, bodies along a dirt road, a face with no eyes.  As the stories of what he’d done unreel from inside him, my brother stands up and walks into his room, back to his wall of science fiction.  I look at the photos, at Travis, look in his eyes as he speaks, somehow I’d learned to do that, like a tree learns to swallow barbed wire.”

The writing is very lucid except for one part.  At one point it lapses into a re-worked King Lear, and I must admit I found myself completely verstiegenheit throughout it.  And please do not write me to tell me that if I didn’t understand that I didn’t get the main point of the book itself.  Perhaps I don’t know Shakespeare well enough to understand it.  Perhaps I’m not, as I have mentioned before in this space, the most careful reader of fiction in the entire world.  I just thought the book could have done without it.

It is one of those rare, dark books that will find you at the end being very glad that your life is not all that interesting.  And it’s a great read, but I don’t really know what it all adds up to.

Next Up: Kurt Vonnegut, A Man Without a Country

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Comments»

1. Old Pine Street Buddy - November 6, 2006

I am glad you liked it ….but What do you mean…..adds up to? It adds up to a voice telling our story. Some of us had really too many interesting experiences early on in our childhood…..and that is our story. Just so everyone knows….Nick told it like it was…..I knew him and he is so honest and so good. I am proud that he told our story.

2. caveblogem - November 7, 2006

Old Pine Street Buddy,

I didn’t mean anything negative by that comment. I guess I feel sometimes, often, that I miss the larger, deeper, more literarily complex themes of some of the books I read. Perhaps this isn’t the case, but the King Lear sequence, I thought, went over my head.

It is indeed a fascinating, gritty story. It is nice to hear that you feel it represents your story and the stories of others, that it is grounded in reality. It certainly seemed realistic to me, although I’m pretty ignorant about much of the subject matter with which it is concerned.

And I’ve got to say that it is always nice to hear when people think well of particular authors, too, as people. So thanks for that. Nick comes off in the book like someone you’d like to know. I hate it when authors turn out to be unpleasant elitists.


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