HRC Book Review: Another Bull---- Night in Suck City
Boston, late 1980s. Writer Nick Flynn is working at Pine Street Inn, the city’s largest homeless shelter. He meets his father for the first time when his dad comes to the shelter for a place to stay. The result is a powerful and moving memoir—Another Bull---- Night in Suck City. HRC’s Jeff Olivet reviews the book.
I had avoided this book for almost four years. I knew it was out there, had heard great things about it. I just felt like I’d heard enough tough stories about homelessness, drinking, rough childhoods. I’m not sure I would have gone out to buy it. But four days ago, Thanksgiving Day, 2008, a friend handed it to me—after the turkey, before the pie. That night I read the first page of Nick Flynn’s 2004 memoir, Another Bull---- Night in Suck City. Found I couldn’t stop. I did my best over the next three days to do what I needed to around the house, feeding the kids, walking the dog. But I hardly put the book down until it was finished.
What I found was that Flynn had woven the threads of his life and his father’s into a raw, unflinching picture of homelessness, alcohol and drugs, loss and sadness, disconnection, dreams of writing great books, and finding one’s roots—for better or worse.
Nick Flynn’s own story is painful enough—abandoned by his father, blaming himself for his mother’s suicide, drugs and alcohol, drifting from job to job with Pine Street Inn and homeless outreach work as a touchstone. His father’s story is heartbreaking. He dreams of being a great writer and is always working on his great novel…while he’s in jail, on the streets, in rooming houses. Flynn is careful not to label his father with mental health diagnoses, as they had never officially been made, but it is clear that his father has many problems. Vodka all day every day. A head injury from a fall years ago (fell from a ladder while hung over). Paranoia. Anger. Racism. Homophobia.
The memoir moves fluidly between straightforward, unadorned narrative of past events and poetic, streaming meditations on homelessness, drinking, and life in the shelter. Flynn’s dance between prose and poetry draws you in and you know you’re just along for the ride—sneaking a peek into the private past and the painful present.
This is not the feel-good book of the year. But it may be one of the best you’ll read.
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