I picked this up at the library thinking it was going to be stories for, you know, boys. I have a boy; he likes stories. Anyway, it turned out not to be that at all, but I checked it out anyway and I'm glad I did. I've read a few reviews here and there are a variety of complaints from the author being too introspective (which is, to me, what separates a memoir from an autobiography) to wanting to know more about the dad (I imagine he prefers his privacy). I didn't agree with these criticisms.
In the first few pages, you learn that Martin's (the author's) dad has attempted suicide and then you find out why: He was sexually molested as a child, he was a closeted gay man for the whole of his 39-year marriage, and he sought out hundreds of anonymous sex partners at parks & rest stops. You're thinking this book might be about homosexuality, right? No. I mean yes, but not really. It's about what happens when someone you have loved and trusted for many years turns out to have been lying to you the whole time, turns out to be a different person than you thought you knew. Martin is unflinchingly honest in detailing the phases he goes through in coming to terms not so much with his dad's sexuality as with his dad's long-term dishonesty and with trying to figure out who his dad really is. He's aware that when his dad was young, you didn't admit you'd been molested, you didn't seek help, and you certainly didn't admit if you were a gay man. He sympathizes. He gets why. And he has no qualms about homosexuality. But he also feels betrayed and the results of this feeling can be ugly.
"This American Life," the NPR radio show, did a great segment a few years back about psychopathic liars. Martin's dad is far from that, but the effect is the same, making his son (and his wife, I'm sure) go back compulsively through all his memories to look at them through this new lens, to make sense of it all. Martin has young sons himself and he starts scrutinizing his relationships with them and asking himself whether he's always been honest. And through all this, he's also maintaining a relationship with his mom, whom his dad still really loves.
It was an engrossing read, with some interesting tangents. I learned more about Walt Whitman than I knew before and I got a book recommendation for my young son. There were interesting quotes from various literary and non-fiction sources. On the whole, I recommend it. More so if you've been betrayed yourself by someone who was dishonest with you in the long-term.