1948 ‘Anti-memoir’ meditates on fatherhood, perseverance

Nimrods: A Fake-Punk, Self-Hurt Anti-Memoir
by Kawika Guillermo

Durham: Duke University Press, 2023
$25.95 / 9781478024927

Reviewed by Logan Macnair


Given that his complicated relationship with his father serves as the catalyst for much of the book’s content, it seems fitting that author Kawika Guillermo begins Nimrods with a reflection of his own experiences as a recent father. But the vision of fatherhood he presents is not an especially idyllic or sentimental one; rather, he compares the sounds of his crying newborn to those of a bleating goat as he wonders to himself whether he has the fortitude to maintain his new role and the responsibilities that come with it.

Insecurities about fatherhood are surely a natural part of the journey, but likely doubly so in the case of Guillermo, who dedicates a majority of his “Fake-Punk, Self-Hurt Anti-Memoir” to documenting the fraught role his own father has played in his life, along with his newfound anxiety that he is, whether through genetic predisposition or social conditioning, doomed to initiate similar mistakes with his own son.

Guillermo’s father (stylized as The FATHER in the book’s biblically-modelled middle section) factors heavily in each of Nimrod’s three parts, and the reader learns how his upbringing as the son of a prominent evangelical leader shaped his outlook and worldview, and how alcoholism impacted (and eventually disintegrated) many of the relationships in his life, including his relationship with Guillermo himself.

Within the vignettes of Nimrods, The FATHER is depicted as a Trump-voting, Facebook-arguing, Jimmy Buffett-singing, balding white man seemingly unaware of any privileges his race may have afforded him in American society. And while I don’t know Guillermo’s father, I certainly know this guy.

Author Kawika Guillermo

Were this a conventional work of fiction, The FATHER might be thought of as the ‘villain’ of Nimrods, but as with most things in real life, people are more complicated than this. The FATHER is not depicted here as a sadist or some cartoonishly evil antagonist. Guillermo’s memories and musings present him as a flawed man to be sure, but not one without sympathetic qualities. To his credit, Guillermo has self-awareness and maturity enough to recognize that his father, a working-class man, “works far harder, for far longer, for far less pay” than he ever will, and he acknowledges his father’s struggles with alcoholism, depression, and suicidal ideation.

What he doesn’t do, however, is let his father off the hook for his problematic behaviour of the past and the ways that it impacted the author as a child and young man.

And while Guillermo’s relationship with his father arguably serves as the crux, Nimrods is about much more than this.

Sometimes cryptically, but more often with a raw and straightforward honesty, Guillermo walks the reader through his various struggles of identity from his childhood in Portland and Las Vegas to the present day. He details his experiences with queerness, gender identity, eating disorders, mixed-race background, initial doubts of and eventual break from a highly religious upbringing. He traces his initiation into punk rock subculture and international living arrangements; and he chronicles his more recent concerns with navigating newer roles—father, recent Vancouverite, and young academic at a post-secondary institution.

Regardless of whether he’s discussing childhood or more recent experiences, ‘Outsider’ seems to be the role that consistently follows Guillermo.

His mixed-race status rendered him as an outsider with his father’s side of the family and the all-white church they attended. His questioning of gender and sexuality as a young person in the ’90s rendered him as an outsider to conventional performances and expectations of gender.

Even today as a young, tenure-track professor at one of the most prestigious universities in Western Canada, it seems he cannot fully shake his outsider status, as he shares various anecdotes that reveal the ‘polite racism’ of the academic world and Canada more broadly–a society where “people insist to hug you so their faces never need look you in the eyes.”

Illustration courtesy Kawika Guillermo

The ‘anti-memoir’ subtitle is apt here as Nimrods is not presented or written in the way of a conventional memoir or autobiography. The stories are not always in chronological order, important events are briefly alluded to only to be revisited in detail later, and the text is presented as a mixture of often fragmented prose, poetry, images, song lyrics, and other creative vehicles of expression, complete with clever wordplay, some terminally online lingo that other ‘children of the Internet’ might recognize, and creative use of the physical space of the pages themselves.

He also treats readers to photos of the young author–pictures of a happy, smiling child which are deliberately defaced and vandalized, crass Green Day lyrics superimposed overtop them as if Guillermo is attempting to retcon the very history these photos suggests.

Adding to this unconventional format are the short phrases sprinkled throughout the book (often in the page margins) that are meant to elaborate or otherwise punctuate what’s being said in the main text. These phrases are a mixture of, among other things, original prose, song lyrics (punk rock being the preferred genre here), quotes from literature/poetry, Bible verses, as well as the author’s personal correspondences such as text messages and remembered conversations. The short phrases provide some nice context, mystery, and flavour to the main text, but more importantly, they act as the scattered pieces that, when combined, create a more fully formed identity.

Ironically, this ‘anti-memoir’ ends up being a more accurate depiction of how memory tends to work than a conventional memoir or autobiography. Most of us don’t remember our past as a chronological sequence of noteworthy events. We remember it as sporadic moments, as songs we heard for the first time, as first and last kisses, as awkward encounters, as scattered images, as times our parents scared us–all of which are presented here. We dwell on decisions we made and how our lives might have played out had we chose something else–in the case of Guillermo, it was brief flirtations with ‘redpill ideology’ as a young man before he was thankfully steered away from that by a girlfriend, or his decision to turn down a cushy academic job in Dubai because he felt it a bad fit for his politics and beliefs.

As the story of one man’s life, Nimrods is worthwhile due to its unconventional approach as well as Guillermo’s honesty, creativity, emotional maturity, and overall skill as a writer.

As something even bigger, it is an effective meditation on the power of perseverance and the possibility of reconciliation between the people we once knew and the people that we are now.




Logan Macnair

Logan Macnair is a novelist and college instructor based out of Burnaby. His academic research is primarily focused on the online narrative, recruitment, and propaganda campaigns of various political extremist movements. His second novel Troll (Now Or Never Publishing, 2023) is a fictionalized account based on his many years of studying online extremist groups. [Editor’s note: Jessica Poon recently reviewed Troll in BRC. Logan Macnair reviewed James Hoggan with Grania Litwin for BCR.]



The British Columbia Review

Interim Editors, 2023-24: Trevor Marc Hughes (non-fiction), Brett Josef Grubisic (fiction)
Publisher: Richard Mackie

Formerly The Ormsby Review, The British Columbia Review is an on-line book review and journal service for BC writers and readers. The Advisory Board now consists of Jean Barman, Wade Davis, Robin Fisher, Barry Gough, Hugh Johnston, Kathy Mezei, Patricia Roy, Maria Tippett, and Graeme Wynn. Provincial Government Patron (since September 2018): Creative BC. Honorary Patron: Yosef Wosk. Scholarly Patron: SFU Graduate Liberal Studies. The British Columbia Review was founded in 2016 by Richard Mackie and Alan Twigg.

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