Upgrade to the Flash 9 viewer for enhanced content, including the ability to browse & search through your favorite titles.
Click here to learn more!
“Marvelous, courageous, and above all, thoughtful.” —The Washington Post
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to stimulate your group’s discussion of The Tricky Part: A Boy’s Story of Sexual Trespass, A Man’s Journey to Forgiveness, Martin Moran’s searchingly honest memoir about sexual abuse and its painful aftermath.
Framing his narrative with a powerful confrontation with the man who abused him thirty years ago, Moran maps the difficult journey from shame and confusion to self-acceptance and grace. For three years, beginning at the age of twelve, he was in a highly charged sexual relationship with Bob, a Vietnam vet, ex-seminarian, and camp counselor whom the young Martin admired, desired, and in his confusion sometimes loved. Moran explores with unflinching honesty the nature and consequences of this relationship, its physical reality, and the world of psychic turmoil it unleashes in the adolescent boy. While struggling to maintain a cheerful façade in his middle-class, Ozzie-and-Harriet neighborhood in Denver, as class president and straight-A student, Martin carries within him a disturbing secret life. Most tormenting is that he craves sex with Bob. The secret rendezvous, the overwhelming desire, the sense of being special in the older man’s eyes—all these feelings exert an irresistible pull on Martin. For years, and through two suicide attempts, Martin blamed himself for participating so willingly in the relationship, before finally understanding that a twelve-year-old boy is in no position to choose or to respond rationally to an adult’s sexual pressure.
But The Tricky Part is much more than an exploration of how it feels to be the victim of sexual abuse and to suffer the emotional and mental disorientation that come with it. It is also a story of healing—from sexual compulsion, self-doubt, and self-hatred. For Martin, this healing comes from many sources: from his cloistered great aunt, who shows him something essential about love; from his involvement in theater and the recognition of theater as a conduit to the divine; and from another man who offers a connection far deeper than any Martin could have imagined as a young boy.
Evocative, courageous, poignant, and triumphant, The Tricky Part takes its place as one of the great memoirs of sexual and spiritual awakening. It offers a message of profound importance for all those who have suffered sexual abuse, and indeed for all who want to understand the complex and mysterious relations between body, mind, and spirit.
1. The scale and severity of sexual abuse of children, particularly within the Catholic Church, is finally being recognized in the United States. What does The Tricky Part add to our understanding of the nature and consequences of such abuse?
2. Why does Martin blame himself for what Bob does to him? What enables him to realize, much later, that he was not at fault?
3. Bob tells Martin that they are not homosexuals because they love each other, and to be a homosexual is to be without love. Is there an element of love in Bob’s behavior with Martin, or is it purely abusive? How does Martin’s relationship with Henry prove Bob’s statement false?
4. What effect does Martin’s relationship with Bob have on his emotional life as a young boy? What are the worst consequences of his abuse?
5. Why does Martin Moran frame the narrative of The Tricky Part with his confrontation with Bob? Why is it so important that Martin speak to Bob? What does Martin gain from this encounter?
6. After seeing a cover story in Time about a gay soldier, Martin’s mother tells him, “I think I’d rather find out one of my children was dead than homosexual” [p. 146]. What would make her feel this way? What forces—cultural, social, religious, personal—might have contributed to such an attitude? How does Martin react to these words?
7. Martin’s voice teacher, Winnie, tells him that being an actor is “important work. It’s a way to channel the divine, Marty. Music, theater, can be a passport to the infinite. Healing for you and for others. It’s a way to reach people” [p. 189]. In what ways might music, theater, or any art serve as a “passport to the infinite”? How are theater and music healing for Martin?
8. Another important teacher in Martin’s life, Brother Tom, asks: “Are we bodies with a spirit or spiritual beings with bodies? And can we not see our bodies, the desires that course through us, as sacred?” [p. 129]. What is the difference between being a body with a spirit or a spirit in a body? How does Martin navigate and ultimately resolve the tensions between desire, addiction, shame, and the sacred?
9. Martin’s mother, recalling her own painful childhood with her alcoholic mother, tells him: “Forgive me—I just need to know that, before I go to the grave, someone has heard my story” [p. 166]. What is the inherent value of telling one’s story and of having someone else hear it? What does Martin Moran achieve by telling his story?
10. At the end of The Tricky Part, Martin writes that “in the middle of the whole tangled mess, the whole story, there has always been something sacred” and wonders if it’s possible “that what harms us might come to restore us” [pp. 283–84]. What is sacred at the center of Martin’s experience with Bob? Has Martin been restored by what has caused him so much suffering? How is this dynamic related to the Christian idea of redemption through suffering?
11. As Martin tries to be honest with himself and with Henry about his sexual addiction, he thinks, “The thing to give up here, to sacrifice, is the secrets” [p. 230]. Why is having a secret life so destructive for Martin?
12. Martin’s sister Marion tells him, “Life is only for love, Marty, and sacrifice is the language of love” [p. 208]. Martin later looks up sacrifice and discovers that it comes from two Latin words: “Sacer—sacred; facere—to make, to do. Sacrifice. To make sacred” [p. 210]. What does Marion mean when she says “sacrifice is the language of love”? How does this statement affect Martin?
13. Winnie tells Martin that we are all here “to serve others. What I am doing for you, you will, in some way, do for someone else, for others, one day” [p. 188]. In what ways can his writing of The Tricky Part be seen as an attempt to serve others? How might someone who has suffered sexual abuse be served by reading this book?
14. How might The Tricky Part affect those in America who oppose gay marriage and who think homosexuality is immoral? Is it possible that anti-gay readers might have a change of heart after reading Martin Moran’s story? Why or why not?
Kevin Bentley, Let’s Shut Out the World; Scott Heim, Mysterious Skin; Richard Hoffmann, Half the House; Mic Hunter, Abused Boys: The Neglected Victims of Sexual Abuse; Mike Lew, Victims No Longer; Michael Lowenthal, Avoidance; Damian McNicholl, A Son Called Gabriel; Thomas G. Plante, Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned: Perspectives on Sexual Abuse Committed by Roman Catholic Priests; K. M. Soehnlein, The World of Normal Boys; Robert Trachtenberg, When I Knew; Bart Yates, The Brothers Bishop.
Martin Moran makes his living as an actor and writer in New York City. He has appeared in many Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, including Titanic, Cabaret, Bells Are Ringing, and Floyd Collins. He won a 2004 Obie Award for his one-man play, The Tricky Part, which New York Times theater critic Ben Brantley praised for the quiet victory of “rendering chaos with this kind of clarity.” Moran continues to perform The Tricky Part all over the country.