c.2023, Abrams Press, $26, 304 pages
You’ve known how to do that for so long that you probably don’t even remember when you learned it. Or was it instinctive? If you were like most kids, your childhood was filled with jumps and hops, bouncing and skipping and climbing, but as in the new book “Leg” by Greg Marshall, many kids have hurdles to leap.
From the moment he was born, Greg Marshall was endowed with two things: a right leg with “tight tendons” that twisted his foot on that side; and certain oversized intimate body parts that his mother was just too eager to mention.
The latter was an eye-rolling embarrassment.
The former was never really a big deal to Marshall. Other than wearing out a lot of sneakers, he walked with a limp, so what?
He was never bullied much about it, though his siblings teased him in a way that siblings will. He never let it stop him from playing tennis or exploring his Salt Lake City neighborhood. He traveled, appeared in local theater, ran for class president, and had an otherwise normal childhood. Still, his leg was something people noticed.
He hoped no one would notice he was gay, but they must’ve: nobody seemed surprised when he came out as a teen.
By then, Marshall’s mother had been fighting non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for years with surgeries and various chemotherapies that left her wrung-out and scarred. She was in the midst of another battle when Marshall’s father was diagnosed with ALS, a disease that affected his muscles and progressed quickly. As the elder Marshall slipped away – the timing of which he decided himself – the family rallied around him, teasing, deflecting, and grieving.
Marshall was in his twenties when that happened, and it highlighted his shaky, barely-controlled penchant for hypochondria that he’d had for some time. He worried about his “tight tendons” and cerebral palsy, a diagnosis he’d recently discovered. He fretted about getting AIDS. Most of all, he wondered if he’d ever find someone to love him…
Hoo boy, “Leg” is the kind of book that makes you hyperventilate. On many, very many pages, there’s boisterous, Saturday-morning-cartoon-like, going-in-five-different-directions chaos that might be sibling-based, it might be parental, deeply personal, humorous, relational, or sexual – and on that note, hoo boy, there are some wildly messy and explicit pages to find here. Author Greg Marshall writes candidly about his sex life, doors wide open, sometimes literally.
Ah, but he also writes about the kind of love that’s wrapped in a scrap of fleece and handled carefully, the kind that feels like it might blow away if you’re not careful. That’s a delicate thing in the midst of a madcap tale of a limb and the gay man attached to it, and it’s sneaky, too: you’ll be looking every-which-way at Marshall’s life, and boom! Tears.
Give yourself some time with this book, and breathe deep. Most readers will find it chaotic but thoroughly enjoyable for a beach read, airport, or a staycation. Don’t skip “Leg,” or you’ll kick yourself.