In short, episodic chapters that move unpredictably and unchronologically through the years between 1956 and 2003, Nick Flynn tells us about his father, Jonathan Flynn--a man of many trades, a writer, an alcoholic with a prison record, a homeless person--and of his own life, which sporadically interweaves with Jonathan's. When Nick was six months old, his 20-year-old mother left Nick's father and made a meager life for herself and her two young sons. A string of her live-in boyfriends and one more failed marriage wound their way through Nick's young life, which was in the seaside town of Scituate, Massachusetts, "the second most alcohol-consuming town . . . in the United States" (77).

At 12, Nick is drinking beer; at 17 he is drinking to get drunk, sometimes with his mother, and smoking marijuana (and later doing other drugs). For years Nick's father "had been manifest as an absence, a nonpresence, a name without a body" yet, "some part of me knew he would show up, that if I stood in one place long enough he would find me, like you're taught to do when you're lost. But they never taught us what to do if both of you are lost, and you both end up in the same place, waiting" (24).

The place where Nick and his father "end up" is the Pine Street homeless shelter in Boston where 27-year-old Nick is a caseworker and Jonathan Flynn appears, a few months after being evicted from his rooming house. Reluctantly, Nick gradually acknowledges his father's presence in the shelter, and gradually, during the next 15 years, reconstructs the lost years through conversations with his father and his father's acquaintances, letters, and manuscript excerpts. The title of the memoir is what Jonathan Flynn mutters at night, when he is looking for a place to sleep (205).


I found this book lively, absorbing, and provocative. Nick Flynn is a poet and much of his writing here is poetic. The work is written with a distinctive style--atmospheric, fragmented, crisp. This memoir is Nick Flynn's story but it is also the story of his father and of others like his father. Flynn renders well his mixed emotions toward this parent--guilt, disgust, anger, shame, curiosity, and loyalty; and his despair and mental collapse after his young mother committed suicide. Present tense narration (for the most part) brings immediacy and power to what is otherwise a tale told dispassionately, with irony, but not with bitterness, although a subtext of social criticism pervades the book.

Flynn devotes a number of sections to descriptions of homelessness and working in the homeless shelter. Because Flynn is such an imaginative writer, his views of homelessness seem from the inside out: the reader has the impression of sitting in the skin of a person who is wandering the streets and parks. These sections reminded me of Charles Barber's accounts, in Songs from the Black Chair, of working in a group home and in the Bellevue men's shelter (see this database). It is noteworthy that Barber and Flynn, each with difficult personal lives, felt compelled to work with the homeless.


This memoir won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award.


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York & London



Page Count