Memoirist Martin Moran has a skillful touch when it comes to prose, but “The Tricky Part” is so disturbing and sad that it will probably end up being a read-only-once book for most people. What makes “The Tricky Part” different from most sexual abuse stories that feature heavily in books and TV and get paraded around the media is Moran’s ambivalent feelings toward his molester. It also makes it a whole lot more interesting than the average pervs-messing-around-with-kids book.
When Martin was twelve, he was an eager-to-please, bright-eyed boy who had his whole life to discover sex and intimacy all in due time. His camp counselor, Bob, took all that away from him. And yet… and yet what? Martin fell for Bob. He was a quite willing participant in a ‘relationship’ (a love affair only in the loosest sense) that lasted several years. Of course a twelve-year-old child cannot consent to sex with a thirty-something-year-old-man, but Martin believed he had something special with his abuser. He loved him. He hated him. He was so fucking confused and he sook out his attention like a moth to the flame, even when it was destroying him.
He felt like Bob’s one and only, even when there was a harem of young boys slipping in and out of Bob’s designated love nests under Martin’s nose. After a fraught adulthood rife with dysfunction and sex addiction, Martin decided to seek out his abuser. This is his story. The first half of this book can be a little hard to read because of the graphic depiction of pedophilia, but it articulates 12-year-old Martin’s confusion and desperation well. This isn’t just a tawdry ripped-from-the-headlines abuse story, it strikes the reader as extremely brave and cathartic for Moran to write.
Moreover, it is interesting to see how Moran got a career in musical theater and came to balance his childhood Catholic beliefs with skepticism and new-age curiosity. Martin is an extremely interesting person, though you can tell he’s been through the ringer emotionally and sexually. You might not agree with everything he does (trying to fuck a fifteen-year-old boy in the men’s lavatory anyone?) and his continual dishonesty to his lover, Henry, is as heartbreaking as it is reprehensible (I’d be so done with him for cheating on me multiple times with guys he didn’t even like, let alone want an intimate relationship with; but Henry never seems to give up on Martin.)
However, you can’t help but feel for Martin. I don’t think his continual abuse at the hands of Bob is an excuse to cheat on his lover repeatedly, but it helps you understand the heartbreaking compulsion that overtakes him again and again. It’s like what Atticus FInch said in “To Kill a Mockingbird.” You step into someone’s shoes and walk around in them. Books help you do that, which is part of what is so great about them. You look at someone’s action from the outside (like Moran’s infidelity) and you go “wow, that’s dickish” but looking inside his mind by reading something he wrote helps you understand.
The second half of “The Tricky Part” is more about Moran’s therapy and gradual healing, which is easier to read psychologically but can get a little wordy in terms of mental health and dream analysis. Despite the transitions between Moran’s childhood and adulthood the two pieces of the book fit together pretty well. It will come as a relief to hear less about Bob in the later chapters. He is truly a monstrous human being.
This book will twist your gut. It will break your heart. It might even make you laugh sporadically. It will make you wish Martin had castrated his abuser for the emotional damage he eked out, rather than forgiving him his transgression. But bloody revenge, as good as it might feel at the time, does not salve the soul like forgiveness does. Forgiveness isn’t just ‘letting it go’ or ‘pretending it never happened.’ It’s healing. And Martin needed all the healing he could get. He couldn’t just be two broken halves of a whole his entire life.
“The Tricky Part” isn’t my favorite memoir, but it’s one of the rawest and most honest. Martin Moran lays bare his soul all to see. There’s nothing not brave about that. I recommend this book to those interested in the effects of childhood sexual abuse and readers of memoirs in general.