In Marty’s (Living Beyond Rainbows, 2010) debut novel, a young, gay American has a sexual awakening in 1970s Europe.
Tomas, nicknamed “Tommy,” spends his early years in the repressive Minnesota culture of the 1950s. His religious parents are terrified of homosexuality, and the culture around him enforces conformity. “By the time he went to public school,” Marty writes, “Tommy had to deal with bullying for being a sissy.” Throughout his adolescent years, Tomas is confused and bereft of guidance. Many of his fellow students begin to challenge authority and social convention in the turbulent ’60s, but Tomas is largely outside these movements. Looking to broaden his experiences and find his identity, he decides to spend the summer of 1970 before his sophomore year of college working and traveling in Europe. For a virgin who’s always lived at home with his parents, this is a life-changing decision. Hitchhiking in foreign countries gives him confidence and freedom, and a series of well-detailed erotic adventures with other men helps him come to terms with his sexuality. At the end of the summer, he makes a bold choice to stay in Portugal with his older lover, Marco, rather than return to the University of Minnesota. Little does he know that he’s settling in Portugal at a time of revolution and social change; the country’s repressive dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar, has just died, and the people Tomas meets struggle for a more open society. The story of Tomas’ journey toward loving himself is authentic and powerful. However, there are some significant pacing issues in the novel, overall; for example, Tomas’ three months of hitchhiking take up much more space than his longer, more compelling period of living in Portugal and becoming involved in the resistance. (Depictions of hitchhiking, like hitchhiking itself, can become tedious.) Some information is relayed abruptly, or even implausibly, such as when Tomas sends a postcard to his parents casually mentioning that he has “decided that I should get more involved with the revolution here.” (The book includes 22 black-and-white photographs of cities in the text.)
An uneven, unsurprising, but still quite sweet coming-of-age novel.