Growing up in Denver during the 1960s, Martin Moran seemed like a normal youngster. His father the journalist, his mother the office worker, an older sister and...
“The Tricky Part: One Boy’s Fall from Trespass Into Grace”
by Martin Moran
Beacon, 285 pp., $23.95
Growing up in Denver during the 1960s, Martin Moran seemed like a normal youngster. His father the journalist, his mother the office worker, an older sister and two younger siblings. Popular, sensitive, good looking, doing well academically at Catholic school.
Everything changed at age 12. A lay Catholic worker named Bob, in his early 30s, took an interest in Martin. (I cannot share Bob’s last name because it is absent from his memoir, “The Tricky Part.” A tiny note on the copyright page informs readers that “most of the names and some details and characters … have been altered for the sake of clarity and to ensure the privacy of individuals.”) Bob began inviting Martin to weekend outings in the countryside away from Denver’s pollution, to perform labor at a combination farm/summer camp site.
Without hesitation, Bob seduced Martin, who felt guilty but rarely resisted. (Warning to readers prudish about language: The descriptions are graphic.) This was not homosexuality, Bob explained, this was a sacred kind of friendship infused with love. Actual homosexuals feel no love when having sex, Bob explained to his callow conquest.
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The author of “The Tricky Part” will read at 7:30 p.m. July 25 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com) and 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at Barnes and Noble, University Village (206-517-4107).
Moran will perform “The Tricky Part” as a one-man show July 15-Aug. 13 at Intiman Theatre (contact 206-269-1900 or www.intiman.org).
As the relationship continued, Bob introduced Martin to Karen, Bob’s 19-year-old girlfriend, later to become his wife. Bob involved Karen and Martin in a threesome, figuring if Martin had intercourse with a woman as well as a man, Martin would feel more manly, more normal.
Martin did not think of Bob as an abuser or criminal. That, of course, is how he should have thought of Bob. Martin’s parents suspected nothing, the early 1970s being a naive era when it came to sex abusers in the Catholic Church — or in any church.
Eventually another boy seduced by Bob spoke up. Bob spent a decade in prison. He left Martin’s life in the flesh, but rarely left Martin’s mind. For awhile, Martin did just fine in school and socially. But eventually the feeling of sin overwhelmed Martin. His grades dropped. His social life tanked. He made a half-hearted attempt at suicide.
He recovered enough to attend Stanford University, then dropped out to pursue a career as a professional actor. He began to think of himself as a willing homosexual, ready for love, not just a victim of abuse. But his compulsive seeking of sex with other males, his addiction to furtive encounters, suggested something unhealthy.
The summary so far suggests a profoundly depressing memoir, and it is indeed profoundly depressing in places. But it uplifts, too. Martin’s psychological journey to a semblance of self-awareness is often positive. His move to New York City, where he meets Henry Stram, another professional actor, is filled with affirmation. Henry is portrayed as a talented, loving man; he and Martin have been loving partners for nearly 20 years, despite Martin’s one-night stands with strangers. Portrayals of Martin’s friends, of a special therapist named Carolyn and of some relatives are affirming. Not so incidentally, because Martin is a superb writer, even the depressing passages are a pleasure to read.
Like most memoirs, “The Tricky Part” is a profoundly personal book, for both the writer and for readers. I am heterosexual and have never been sexually abused. That almost certainly means I read portions of the memoir with a different attitude than closeted homosexuals, outed homosexuals and survivors of sexual abuse. Moran reaches across those divides, however, hoping to help everybody understand the universal portions of his experience. Surely every reader will relate, for example, to the scenes in which the author reveals his sexual orientation (but not the details of his relationship with Bob) to older sister, Mom and Dad. Older sister reacts calmly, without surprise. Mom reacts negatively, but over the years makes peace with her son’s desires. Dad reacts negatively, and never comes around.
The climaxes of the book, at both ends of Moran’s life so far, involve Bob. The sex with Bob is graphically told, multiple times. For the later climax, Moran decides to locate Bob, to request — maybe force — a meeting. That meeting occurs on April 4, 2002, in a California veterans hospital where Bob is a patient. I’m not going to disclose the results of that meeting in this review. That would be akin to spoiling the climax of a mystery novel or a thriller at the cinema.
Steve Weinberg is a director of the National Book Critics Circle.