by Nick Flynn; New York, W.W. Norton and Company, Inc., 2004, 347 pages, $23.95
Dr. Peele is clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Maryam Razavi is a resident in psychiatry at George Washington University.
In Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, author Nick Flynn works in a Boston shelter as a counselor. One evening, the shelter admits Jonathan Flynn, Nick's homeless father.
When Nick is an infant, Jonathan separates from Nick's mother, Jody. He communicates only once with Nick, by a letter from prison when Nick is 16, until they meet during Nick's late twenties. By the time they meet, Jonathan has joined Boston's homeless population, after an unsuccessful career as a bank robber and a cab driver, among other occupations.
Jonathan is described as an alcoholic and as a hapless criminal with antisocial traits. He lies pathologically about being a great novel writer and about having relationships with the famous. Jody is described as a devoted mother, who attracts a series of unfortunate men, all incapable of being an adequate father. When she is 43 and Nick is 22, Jody puts a bullet in her head after reading one of Nick's writings. Nick describes himself as an alcoholic, involved with criminals, and an aspiring writer. Witnessing his father's condition and seeing a therapist for a year reverses Nick's downward spiral.
This lean, swift, poetic memoir describes a lot that is pitiful, but Flynn expresses no self-pity or any pity for anyone else. His chapters vary—a few sentences, brief plays, a riddle, and narratives—and are very revealing, yet much is omitted. Artists want to leave much for the reader's imagination.
On reading this book, clinicians knowledgeable about shelters and the homeless will say to themselves again and again, "So true, so true." On reading this book, one follows a father who moves from being a phantom father, to a pseudo-father, to a tragic father, to having a relationship that suits father and son. One follows how those roles influence the son. On reading this book, clinicians can take satisfaction in that one of their colleagues, through psychotherapy, has taken someone headed for disaster and helped that person become someone who can write clearly, meaningfully, and movingly about those who find that their nights are bullshit.