SECRET LIFE: An Autobiography by Michael Ryan

SECRET LIFE: An Autobiography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this articulate but angst-laden memoir, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse charts the evolution of his personality flaws and sexual compulsions. Ryan, the award-winning author of three books of poetry, was molested repeatedly by a male neighbor when he was five, in the early 1950s. This, in conjunction with his father's vicious alcoholism, severely compromised Ryan's emotional development, and he presents his childhood and adolescence as an endless string of embarrassments and evasions. At age nine, just arrived in Allentown, Penn., Ryan bragged that he was a great baseball pitcher; of course, when challenged, he turned out not to be. The lies and groundless bragging continued, as did his failures. He was dumped by his first girlfriend because of his relentless idealization of her. He mocked and insulted his classmates, which cost him all his remaining friends. He got fat. His grades plummeted. He masturbated a lot. He took up bowling. But by his senior year of high school, he had (for reasons unexplained) slimmed down, concentrated on his schoolwork, and began to get dates -- but what he wanted from girls was impersonal sex or heavy petting, and he would invariably drop them after a few sessions. In 1964 he entered Notre Dame, where he eventually became an outstanding scholar but continued to have unsatisfactory relations with women. Ryan jumps from his student days to 1981, when he lost a job at Princeton for sleeping with students, and then another decade, when he finally comes to terms with being a ""sex addict"" who has completely depersonalized the sexual act. Unwisely, Ryan opens with 50 pages summarizing his sex addiction, his molestation, and his father's alcoholism; the narrative punch of the remaining 300 pages is hugely diminished, and many details are pointlessly repeated. Ryan barely mentions his poetry -- he's edited out everything but humiliation and depravity. A downbeat account of a confused, unhappy life.

Pub Date: July 11th, 1995
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Pantheon