Roland Kelts is the author of Japanamerica: How Japanese Pop Culture Has Invaded the US. He is a contributing writer and editor at A Public Space literary journal and Adbusters magazine, and a columnist at Japan’s Daily Yomiuri. He is also the editorial director of Anime Masterpieces, a screening and lecture series, and a professor at the University of Tokyo and Sophia University. His work appears in numerous publications in the US and Japan, and his forthcoming novel is called Access. He divides his time between New York and Tokyo.
Just before I left Tokyo for another round of book tour events in the US this past summer, my friend Yuko handed me a copy of Nick Flynn’s Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Ostensibly a memoir, it’s one of those books I had subconsciously avoided in the past for reasons I suspect are entirely personal. I knew it had been critically lauded, and I’d even glanced at a few pages in a bookstore aisle, finding the prose fresh, arresting.
I also knew that Flynn was chronicling in its pages a life of muted disappointment – and the deeper pain that comes with a trail of persistent bruises as opposed to a knockout punch. I knew the father was an alcoholic, a failed writer, and like most pretenders, increasingly pathetic. And I knew the son was shadow-boxing, cowering in an effort to find strength, and a self.
I think I was afraid of reading it for the risk of recognition.
But I finally did, thanks to Yuko. I read the book on planes, in hotel rooms, in taxis to and from airports. Each time I opened its pages, I did so with the admixture of helpless hunger and foreboding that is the condition of the addict. Flynn’s writing somehow captures the low-lidded wariness, the willful half-seeing yet all-knowing suspicion of a soul perpetually on the verge of tragedy, dangling from its ledge even, but never having the luxury of the fall’s full embrace.
I finished the book with a queer sense of awe and trepidation. I was not comforted, but I felt like I’d survived. Even now, it’s hard for me to return to its pages.