New York Times Book Review19 sept 2004Sins of the FatherBy VENDELA VIDA
ANOTHER BULL / / / /
NIGHT . . .
By Nick Flynn.
347 pp. W. W.Norton & Company. $23.95.IT takes guts to give a book a title that many publications, including this one,can't print in its entirety. The title of Nick Flynn's book gives the (not whollyaccurate) impression that it's the memoir of a 20-something urbanite, and nodoubt it will lure a young -- and fortunate -- audience. It would be a shame,though, if potential readers dismissed the book because of the title alone -- itssource, by the way, is quite unexpected -- because Flynn has written a potent,distinctive autobiography.At its core, Nick Flynn's book is the story of his relationship with his father,Jonathan, a drunk and a con man who has served time in federal prison for bankrobbery. Jonathan then becomes homeless, seeking refuge at the Pine StreetInn, the South Boston shelter where Nick has been working for three years -- firstas a counselor, then as a caseworker.When they meet again, Nick is 27. Although he's only seen his father once, whenhe was 8, their lives aren't so dissimilar. They are both drinkers and drifters (atsome points, it seems that Nick's life is only a few drinks and bad breaks awayfrom Jonathan's), and both are aspiring writers. Nick will eventually publish twobooks of poetry. Jonathan, who, Nick notes, ''has slept in a cardboard box,'' isholding out for a $2 million advance ''so he can begin, or finish, the project thatdefines his entire life, the book he's been writing since before I was born.'' And ofcourse, there is the strange -- and to Nick, troublesome -- fact that they both findthemselves at the same shelter, at least for a few hours a day. Nick livesalternately in a Boston warehouse and on a boat that he finally sells for a dollar.Flynn deftly shows us exactly how they both ended up where they are. Nick'smother, Jody, left Jonathan when she was 20 and Nick was 6 months old. Sheraised Nick and his older brother, Thaddeus, in her hometown, Scituate, Mass.,while working multiple jobs -- bank teller, waitress, supermarket employee. WhenNick is 22, Jody, who is lovingly portrayed, commits suicide; afterward, Nick hasa breakdown. He drops out of the University of Massachusetts, where he's beengiven a full scholarship, and he and a friend fix up a boat, which they eventuallydock near Boston. Nick meets a woman who works at the Pine Street Inn, andshe helps get him a job.The position at Pine Street is a good fit for Nick, who at this point seems to prefer