Not long ago, I reviewed Simon Smalley’s memoir That Boy of Yours Wants Looking At, which I enjoyed despite the lack of conflict with his family over coming out. Their enthusiasm was refreshing yet jarring considering the experiences of most gay men I know, whose lives hew closer to that of Marshall Moore as detailed in his new release, I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing. This is a family to which I can relate, however graphically.
Novelist Moore, known for such portrayals of urban life and angst as Inhospitable and Bitter Orange turns a critical lens on his own life, beginning with his childhood in Greenville, North Carolina–not exactly a metropolitan area. Helping him steer blindly through the waters of adolescence are his mother, Laura, who has a penchant for white wine and pills as well as an unhealthy preoccupation with her son’s body, his eternally angry and abusive father, the Marine, and his sister, Janelle, who bumps her way into substance abuse.
Autobiographies are always interesting to me not so much for what they say but how they say it. Everyone has trauma, that being a pretty elastic term. However, not everyone can process and relate it with enough detachment to make it universal to the reader. Moore has enough intellectual and emotional distance to find those commonalities, so his prose is factual and unsentimental. Moore’s very first chapter, “The Trouble With Dick,” is about his penile surgery as a toddler among other things, and the chapters get more intimate from there. But Moore never loses his cool or his standpoint.
As a victim of child abuse myself, although not quite at the level of crazy Moore’s experienced, I know all too well the preternatural sensitivity you have to develop to survive. You have to be able to sense the mood the second you walk in the door, if not on the bus down the block. Dad’s car’s home? Oh, shit. And once you determine the mood, you have to be able to switch in a second if your entrance alters it. Childhood is precarious for us, and Moore portrays that balance of comfort and unease with unerring accuracy.
Moore’s gallows humor is also on display here. His fiction has always worn a dark, mordant grin, and his non-fiction follows through with that–except the grin is a little darker and a bit wider. He’s able to find the humor, often ironic, in the most embarrassing of situations. Yet another survival technique, but it makes for fine reading.
I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing is a compulsively readable account of a somewhat compulsive life. If you’ve enjoyed Moore’s fiction, this should be next on your list.
© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler