Conversation: Love by the Book

Photo: Patrick McMullan

Poet-memoirist Nick Flynn, indie star Lili Taylor, and their 2-year-old, Maeve, divide their time between a Cobble Hill co-op and a Hudson Valley barn. Taylor (as “Inez”) is a central figure in Flynn’s second memoir, The Ticking Is the Bomb, which is partly about choosing one woman over another in order to start a family. (His first book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, deals with his mother’s suicide and his father’s homelessness.) The couple sat down with Boris Kachka.

So how did you become a couple?
Lili Taylor: A very good friend of mine was trying to get us together for six months. I had the sense it was a setup, and I was about to leave the dinner—not because I didn’t like Nick but just because sometimes I say no instead of yes.
Nick Flynn: I thought she was a great actress. It’s like that dream you have when you’re a kid, where Bruce Springsteen’s going to walk into your bedroom. I don’t think we would have liked each other ten years earlier. I was kind of a mess. We’ve talked about that before.
LT: Not really!
NF: I think we met each other at the right time, is what I mean. You should put that down; I’m right about this one.

Lili, you knew about Nick’s parents, and you had a manic-depressive father.
LT: I diminished my experience because his felt so—it’s intense.
NF: Her stories came out more slowly.
LT: And we were both realizing our stories have value and on the scale—there’s no scale. Okay, my dad didn’t commit suicide.
NF: But that’s what I found writing the first book, that I don’t feel my story is that unique. It’s just someone struggling to comprehend their parents.

In his new book, Nick reveals he was unsure about whether he was ready for a child. But it doesn’t say how “Inez” felt.
LT: Being older, I didn’t have the luxury of time, so I just said, “I’d like to have a child. I hope you’re ready. No blame if you’re not, but I gotta get going.” And Nick stepped up. We just got married!
NF: Day before Thanksgiving. Justice of the peace. [Shows off his wedding ring.] Always knew I’d have a child. Lili and I talked about it our first night together.
LT: You didn’t remember that, though, for a while.
NF: Well, I’m remembering that you reminded me of that now.

How do you feel about pieces of all this in his book, Lili?
LT: I let anonymity go a long time ago. I know what’s going on for me—and also, it’s great, people know I’m a whole person.

Would you rather Maeve become an actress or a writer?
LT: I’ll encourage whatever she wants to do. I would suggest not becoming an actor until later.
NF: You mean not be a child actor?
LT: Yeah.
NF: She’s awfully cute, though. We could put her in one of those little movies.
LT: [Skeptical sidelong glance.]

The Ticking Is the Bomb
By Nick Flynn.
W. W. Norton & Company.

Conversation: Love by the Book