Author Archives: Amos

“So Much Life Left Over” by Louis de Bernieres— Love and Loss

Louis de Bernieres. “So Much Life Left Over”, Pantheon, 2018.

Love and Loss

Amos Lassen

I love historical epics and every summer I try to read a couple. I find it great fun to become involved and soon allow myself to get lost among the characters. “So Much Life Left Over” is an epic about love and loss set in Great Britain between the two World Wars. We follow (or, as I do become part of) a group of childhood friends whose lives and fortunes intertwine as they endure a world at war. There are lots of emotions and action and I found this a difficult book to put down.

We meet an inseparable tribe of childhood friends of whom some were lost to the battles of the First World War, and those who were able to survived have had their lives totally changed. As the 1920s begin, they’ve scattered all over— Ceylon and India, France and Germany, and back to Britain. They are filled with the same question of “If you have been embroiled in a war in which you confidently expected to die, what are you supposed to do with so much life unexpectedly left over?” In brief, dramatic chapters we follow them through the decades as their paths re-cross or their ties fall apart, as they test friendships and love, face grief and guilt, and try to adjust to the modern world. I found it to be like getting a whole new group of friends with which to spend the summer and each of them came to matter to me.

Daniel, is a Royal Air Force flying ace that married Rosie, a wartime nurse. Their marriage is slowly revealed to be built on lies and Daniel finds solace—and, sometimes, family with other women, while Rosie protects herself with religion. Rosie’s sisters include a bohemian, a minister’s wife, and a spinster, each seeking purpose and happiness in her own unconventional way. Daniel has a military brother who is unable to find his place in a peaceful world. Then we have Rosie’s “peculiar” mother and her secretive father. When the peace between the wars begins to break, we watch as war once again changes the lives of these people.

We see how quickly lives can be torn apart and/or come together. I could not help but be reminded of the characters that we found in the novels of Charles Dickens and the social observations that went along with them. Here we have the impact of two wars upon people who find themselves at the doorstep of a modern world. We laugh and cry with them and they become part of us during the read. In fact, they became friends that I did not want to be taken away from and when I closed the covers of the book I immediately began to miss them. This is the first Louis de Bernieres book that I have read and I immediately felt that I had to go back and read his others. There is something about the conflicts of love and loyalty that is fascinating and I want to be even more fascinated.

“Fabulous: An Opera Buffa” by Laury A. Egan— Paying the Rent

Egan, Laury A. “Fabulous!: An Opera Buffa”, Tiny Fox Press, 2018.

Paying the Rent

Amos Lassen

Sometimes when life is getting you down, you need to do something to raise your spirits. (I doubt that sentence needs any further explanation these days). The way I do this is to look for a book that will pick me up and take me away to a place I would ordinarily not go. It just so happened that I received an invitation to review a book by an author I did not know and it did the trick. Just think about the intersection between the mob, opera and drag and you will see what kind of fun can be had.

Gilbert Eugene Rose is a talented opera singer who moonlights as a drag queen and diva divine, Kiri De Uwana. Sometimes it is what we have to do to pay the rent. But let’s face it, there are not too many drag dives that make it to the big time and Gil really wants to make it on the New York opera scene. He gets two gigs (surely there is a more refined word in opera-talk), one as a soprano and one as a tenor in separate productions and he also gets to chance to sing Handel when he is hired by a very dangerous female gangster who just happens to be in the midst of war with the producer of one of the other two operas. The chances of any of this ending happily are very slim.

As might be expected in the world of drag, this is a campy story that is way over the top and Gil only has his drag apparel, his wigs and his wits for support in a very trying time. Like many operas, we have an epic cast of characters; unlike many operas, the characters seem to be missing something and as the story moves forward, the reader is in for great fun. I was so reminded of when as an undergrad, I took a part as an extra in a New Orleans Opera House production of “La Boheme” and as I attended rehearsals, I came to understand that sanity in the opera world is a rare trait…. but the insanity is fun. I felt a smile on my face the entire time I read “Fabulous”.

Now I certainly do not want to ruin a read by writing spoilers so I am going to very carefully attempt to skirt the plot as much as possible (and no, the use of the word “skirt” here has nothing to do with drag). We immediately see the conflict that Gil faces when he is so anxious to make a name for himself that he takes on more than he can handle (or Handel). Taking two leading roles at two different opera houses was already too much but he had to take one more job to privately perform privately. And we are off on a crazy journey through three different aspects of New York City life— the drag, mob and opera scenes. What I find so wonderful about this book is that it does not ridicule or make fun of drag but rather captures the scene believably and beautifully. Sometimes we have to be reminded that we have to be able to laugh at ourselves.

I have to comment on Laury Egan’s character development of Gil. She has developed not only a loving main character but his alter egos as well and we can say the same for all of the other characters. The other characters run the gamut from “drag queens, psychics, spirit guides, mobsters to lesbian best friends, ex-lovers, hitmen/women, crazy love interests, absent parents, multiple identities and kidnappers. If you thought that “The Ten Commandments” had a big cast, you will be surprised at how many characters we have here and each is well developed. As if crazy characters are not enough, we also find them in crazy situations. Forget the world of reality and come away with Laury Egan to a world you have never visited before.

I came across a review (something I rarely do is read other reviews before writing my own) that uses the word “audacious” to describe “Fabulous” and I believe that hits it on the head. In fact, I felt the story to be so audacious that I read it in one sitting. I do think that I should mention that the humor is well meant and sophisticated so you will be laughing more internally than aloud— but you will be laughing.

I have only on a few occasions had trouble reviewing a book without giving something away especially because there are situations that I am dying to share but holding back. That is about the strongest recommendation that I can give and hopefully you will agree with me after reading “Fabulous”.

“Into?” by North Morgan— We All Know A Konrad

Morgan, North. “Into?”, Flatiron Books, 2018.

We All Know a Konrad

Amos Lassen

On social media, Konrad seems to be everywhere. He is the guy that no matter what we do, he has done it first and better. But then there is Konrad Platt who is heartbroken after his boyfriend left him for another man. You see, Konrad abandoned his life in London for the warm sun and blue surf of Los Angeles where he attends parties in the Hollywood Hills filled with handsome men and beautiful women, snorts mountains of Adderall, and dances the weekends away. He attempts to mends his broken heart through dating apps and he is constantly searching and scrolling through profiles and chatting with an endless number of men and each one is handsomer than the last. However, when one captures his heart, a twisted modern romance begins and it is thrilling, confusing, and devastating. What we find is that this guy who seems to have it all is missing what he is really desperate for— real connection.

Writer North Morgan takes us into the modern generation of gay men that are living firmly outside the closet, freed from the horror of AIDS and elevated by popular culture. But there is a new set of problems— insecurities and self-destructions. This is a very funny and shockingly perceptive story of excess and love. It is the story of a life spent online that has a sense of urgency —“a brutal story about loneliness in this hyperactive social media age that was bursting to be told.”

Morgan wonderfully captures message-only relationships, the gym-dysmorphia, and that is purely physical. We come into the life of Konrad at a seemingly arbitrary point, and then taken from it just as abruptly. The novel is dark and takes self-loathing to a whole new level. Konrad is a character that so many individuals can relate too that for many readers, this book will become their book.

Here is the shallow world of gay men on social media that delivers a funny and sobering look at the two dimensional personalities that are online personas. Konrad is both a participant and a tortured observer who documents his desires, inadequacies, and eccentricities.

In today’s society, there is a huge disconnect between societal demands and emotional sustainability especially because there is a strong tendency for one to become an agent who promotes social norms rather than following one’s own moral values.

Konrad is dealing with this and as we read about him, we see ourselves in some of his struggles. We gain an insight into our own unspoken struggles that we are deal with daily. Konrad lives in a pretty world with pretty people and is treated indifferently by everyone but doesn’t do anything about it because there’s something alluring waiting for him. Morgan’s story of the endless search for what one can’t have is so timely especially when thinking about today’s gay culture. We have the never-ending parties, the drugs and the sex but they are only a part of this story.

Konrad comes to America and to LA, right into a scene of gay men who exist solely on the surface. Konrad works in finance for his dad, reveals his true addiction: social media and a heteronormative man that he can’t have or possibly be. He spends hours on Facebook, Instagram, and the dating apps engaging with men hoping for one that defines his very specific and limited view of masculinity. Those he does hook up with only disappoint by word or deed and then he’s on to the next. He realizes that it’s the chase and the actual obsession with someone he won’t have that is the fun.

Konrad looks for what we all search for— someone to be happy with. He is his own worst enemy as we often are, looking for what we most want at any given moment, but not what we actually need. This is a very satisfying, modern tale of contemporary urban gay life with many twists and turns.

“Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics” by Myrl Beam— The Nonprofit Structure

Beam, Myrl. “Gay, Inc.: The Nonprofitization of Queer Politics”, University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

The Nonprofit Structure

Amos Lassen

Writer Myrl Beam gives us a bold and provocative look at how the nonprofit sphere’s expansion has both helped and hindered the LGBT cause. She argues that the conservative turn in queer movement politics is due mostly to the movement’s embrace of the nonprofit structure. Through oral histories, archival research, and her own extensive activist work, “Gay, Inc.” looks at how LGBT nonprofits in Minneapolis and Chicago deal with the contradictions between radical queer social movements and their institutionalized purposes.

Beam outlines the” emotionally compelling but politically compromising role of nonprofit organizations in LGBTQ life.” We see the conflicts between mission and fundraising, between participants and donors that influence our commitments to social justice. This is the book to read to find out how social change works. “Gay, Inc.” helps us understand queer and trans resistance in and brings new insight into social movement debates about the role of nonprofits using grounded histories of resistance and conflict within queer politics.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Neoliberalism, Nonprofitization, and Social Change
  • The Work of Compassion: Institutionalizing Affective Economies of AIDS and Homelessness
  • Community and Its Others: Safety, Space, and Nonprofitization
  • Capital and Nonprofitization: At the Limits of “By and For”
  • Navigating the Crisis of Neoliberalism: A Stance of Undefeated Despair
  • Conclusion
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Index

“Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity” by Karen Stern— Looking Back in Time

Stern, Karen. “Writing on the Wall: Graffiti and the Forgotten Jews of Antiquity”, Princeton University Press, 2018.

Looking Back in Time

Amos Lassen

We do not have much information about the daily lives and practices of the Jews of antiquity. What we do have are the various perspectives that have come to us through the writings of Josephus, Philo and the rabbinic writings of the Talmud and the Mishnah but very little about the average “man on the street”. Artistically we have commissioned art, architecture and formal inscriptions that have existed

on tombs and synagogues but these are reflections of the elite and those with influence. We know almost nothing about those Jews who did not fit into the elite class. These Jews are the focus of this fascinating study by Karen Sterne who takes us on a journey to meet the forgotten Jews of antiquity and we do so by looking at the vernacular inscriptions and drawings they left behind and that give us an idea on how they lived day to day.

Throughout the eastern and southern Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, Arabia, and Egypt, ancient Jews scribbled and drew graffiti everyplace (in and around markets, hippodromes, theaters, pagan temples, open cliffs, sanctuaries, and even inside burial caves and synagogues). It is these markings that tell us about the men and women who made them- the same people whose lives, beliefs, and behaviors do not appear anywhere else. Writer Stern gives us compelling analogies with modern graffiti practices, the connections between Jews and their neighbors that have been overlooked until now and that show “how popular Jewish practices of prayer, mortuary commemoration, commerce, and civic engagement regularly crossed ethnic and religious boundaries.”

Through this graffiti, we gain an intimate look into the forgotten populations who lived at the time that Judaism, Christianity, paganism, and earliest Islam were at a crossroads. Ancient Jewish graffiti from around the Roman world, was used as a means of expression. We read of the lives and concerns of ordinary Jews who were eager to leave their mark in public and private spaces and did so with personal messages and symbols. There is so much to be learned here about ancient Jewish literacy and the relation between image and text as well as personal identity.

Informal messages were etched and painted by Jews of antiquity onto a variety of media. We see that the Jews of late antiquity were involved in the same kinds of markings of space for ritual, social, and individual reasons as did their non-Jewish contemporaries. We also see the ways Jewish practices set them off from their neighbors.

I cant help but wonder why it took so long for us to even be curious about how the Jews of antiquity lived and how this book will make such a big differences when we think about daily life at the time. I realized as I read that my traditional, modern definition of the word graffiti would need to be updated and just redefined. What a fascinating read this is.

“SPEEDWALKING”— From Boy to Man

“Speedwalking”

From Boy to Man

Amos Lassen

In a quirky small town located on the outskirts of everything, 14-year-old Martin is getting ready for one of the most formal transitions from boy to man: the communion. It is 1976 and everything seems great but in the midst of it all, Martin’s mother suddenly passes away and her death influences a series of events that not only change Martin’s life forever, but also affect everyone else in the community. This humorous and evocative story is about how life and death demand a transition in us all.

Danish director Niels Arden Oplev  brings us a semi-sweet coming-of-age comedy. It follows the tentative sexual inquiries of a 13-year-old boy who is dealing with his mother’s death.

Martin (Villads Boye) is a sensitive, sensible adolescent who methodically manages the seating arrangements for his upcoming confirmation party. We meet him on the day of his mother’s sudden, cancer-related death. His neighbor Lizzie looks in on the grieving family as do various other well-wishers but it is Martin who appoints himself chiefly responsible for pulling his stricken household together. His clueless father (Anders W. Berthelsen) and sullen older brother (Jens Malthe Naesby) are petrified by grief.

Martin plays down his mourning process and concentrates more intently on his budding libido. His are complicated by his ongoing sexual talk with his male best friend, Kim (Frederik Winther Rasmussen), which gradually crosses the line from boys-will-be-boys horseplay into something more intimate.

Director Oplev gives us a delicately candid depiction of the earliest stage of teen sexuality, where all options are open. While Martin’s dad doesn’t mind sharing certain awkward sexual confessions with his sons, homosexuality is only tacitly accepted. Martin was told that his gay uncle Kristian, (Pilou Asbaek) lives with another man “because of the housing shortage in Copenhagen.” Meanwhile, Kristine’s shrugging acceptance of the pill because “boys hate rubbers” puts us into a world that is pre-AIDS.

Sexual politics are presented largely without comment and give purpose to the film’s period setting. We really see the continuing divergence between European and American cultural sensibilities.

It’s the beginning of summer 1976 and 14-year-old Martin is preparing for his upcoming Christian confirmation ceremony when his mother Maja (Stine Stengade) unexpectedly dies after a sudden onset of cancer. His devastated father can barely deal with the tragedy, moving into the basement rather than sleeping in the bed he formerly shared with his wife. Martin’s older brother Jens (Jens Malthe Naesby) isn’t much better off, seeking refuge behind a pair of his mother’s oversize sunglasses day and night. The only ones who understand what Martin is going through are his best friend Kim and his pretty blonde classmate Kristine (Kraka Donslund Nielsen), a nearby neighbor. This is a town where everyone knows the latest news and gossip.

As Martin struggles to cope, he discovers that one of the few advantages of his traumatic emotional ordeal is that Kristine is now taking a much greater interest in him, even hinting that he may be in for a kiss once the mourning period for his mother is over. At school, Martin excels on the speed-walking team, consistently outpacing Kim and his other classmates during practice. Now that he’s discovered sex, however, Kim has other things on his mind, some of which he’d like to share with Martin, who remains fairly clueless. In between daydreaming about Kristine and trying to rally his dad and brother back to some sense of normalcy, Martin indulges his curiosity about Kim’s secret disclosures, some of which give him ideas about how he’d like to pursue Kristine, especially after he claims the promised kiss.

Kristine also has much more intriguing plans in mind, but she’s going to make Martin wait until after their confirmation to explore them. Meanwhile, Martin is also drawing closer to Kim and is caught up in a tumult of hormonal urges and unfocused desire. We do not know if all of this confusion will set the course for Martin’s adult life or just prove to be a passing youthful diversion. However, it’s clear there’s no going back to the innocent days before his mother’s death.

It seems that there is a sexual revolution taking place in the film’s small Danish town. In addition to Martin’s tentative explorations, his father is having an affair with the local hairdresser and his brother is accepting sexual favors from an older woman cheating on her husband, who’s probably cheating on her too.

“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON”— The End of the Road

“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON”

The End of the Road

Amos Lassen

Available for the Very First Time at Retail, the 6-Disc Set Features 24 Complete, Remastered Episodes Loaded with Classic Sketches  and Incredible Guest Stars.

Political correctness met its match with Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In, NBC-TV’s groundbreaking variety series that became a cultural touchstone and part of the fabric of ’60s-’70s era America. Every Monday night at 8pm from 1968-1973, straight man Dan Rowan and wisecracking co-host Dick Martin led a supremely talented comic ensemble through a gut-busting assault of one-liners, skits, bits and non sequiturs that left viewers in hysterics and disbelief. “ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON”, from the award-winning TV DVD archivists at Time Life, makes its retail debut on July 10 in an uproarious set featuring all 24 re-mastered episodes from the fifth season (September 13,1971-March 20, 1972).

  THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON includes such classic features as “Cocktail Party,” “Fickle Finger of Fate,” “Joke Wall,” “Gladys and Tyrone,” “General Bull Right,” “Big Al,” Lily Tomlin’s legendary “Ernestine” and “Edith Ann,” “Tasteful Lady,” and “Ruth Buzzi’s Hollywood Report”. Additionally, Mod, Mod World takes on sports, toys and games, families, politics, nutrition, leisure, year’s end, Manhattan, television, small towns, crazy people, and the theater, Robert Goulet, Charo, and Three Dog Night perform the Laugh-In news song and there’s a hilarious “Salute to Santa” and a very modern Christmas Carol.

In THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, after years of shameless name dropping, Dick finally gets his wish when bombshell Raquel Welch kicks off the new season with her first and only appearance on the show. Former Hogan’s Heroes POWs Richard Dawson and Larry Hovis escaped CBS to join the cast. And, along with alumni Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, Henry Gibson, Jo Anne Worley and Teresa Graves, they help to celebrate Laugh-In‘s landmark 100th episode (September 1, 1971). THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON also brings out many of the 20th century’s greatest talents including Steve Allen, Johnny Carson, Johnny Cash, Carol Channing, Charo, Petula Clark, Bing Crosby, Tony Curtis, Henry Gibson, Gene Hackman, Rita Hayworth, Hugh Hefner, Bob Hope, Arte Johnson, Paul Lynde, Liza Minnelli, Agnes Moorehead, Joe Namath, Carroll O’Connor, Vincent Price, Carl Reiner, Debbie Reynolds, Sugar Ray Robinson, Bill Russell, Vin Scully, Doc Severinsen, Jacqueline Susann, Tiny Tim, John Wayne, Raquel Welch, Henny Youngman, and more!

“The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness: A Memoir” by Graham Caveney— Coming of Age in the Seventies

Caveney, Graham. “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness: A Memoir”, Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Coming of Age in the Seventies

Amos Lassen

Graham Caveney was raised in Lancashire, a small town in the north of England that was known for its football team, its cotton mills and its deep roots in the respectability of the middle class. He was confused by his adolescence and spent time reading Kafka and listening to the music of the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. In fact, this was how he escaped even if just in mind but when a mentor noticed this about him, everything changes.

In this memoir, Caveney looks back at that time and tries to reconcile his past and present as he looks at, the challenges and awe of adolescence, music, and literature. we see his anger and despair in his gorgeous prose and it is here that he finds some kind of redemption. Written with raw emotion, He shares the power of the arts in his memoir and he makes us sit up and listen.

At first, it seems that “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” is a memoir of abuse by a seductive and manipulative priest and revered mentor but it is so much more than that as it gives us a look at “a working-class Irish family blindly under the spell of the Catholic Church.” It is both a heartbreaker and a brilliant look at growing up. Caveney gives us insight into the British class system, traditions, rituals, ways of life and habits of thought as he takes us slowly and surely into the world of abuse by the church. Yet we also get a tender and sensitive story of adolescent male friendship, unspoken parental love and redemptive power of music.

Caveney’s sexual abuse by his headteacher for years pushed him into an adult battle with alcoholism and depression. He waited until his parents were gone to write this. They were devout Catholics and so proud of the headteacher (himself a Catholic priest) taking what they thought was an academic interest in their son. Caveney positions his repeated sexual abuse into the landscape of an early Eighties adolescence and resists reaching easy conclusions as he attacks the contradictions of his adolescence. He is very angry yet he is also able to be humorous. Here he was— “a clever, awkward, nerdy, only child of devoutly Catholic working-class parents in Accrington, Lancashire, he was groomed by a priest at his local grammar school in Blackburn, and then sexually abused by him.”

Caveney doesn’t mince words and through his use of vocabulary brutality, we better understand what he went through. We also see the importance of music here and it is in another world; totally apart from Caveney’s experience with his abuser. On the other hand, his interest in literature was a tool his abuser used to win him over. He hits us hard through the moments of abuse, the emotional trauma and the long-standing guilt that he has had to deal with and it is impossible not to see the impact of sexual abuse.

“Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” by J.E. Sumerrau and Ryan T. Cragun— Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

 

Sumerrau, J.E. and Ryan T. Cragun. “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone”, Rowman and Littlefield. 2018.

Christian Tolerance and Minority Rights

Amos Lassen

 “Christianity and the Limits of Minority Acceptance in America: God Loves (Almost) Everyone” looks at the ways Christian women in college make sense of bisexual, transgender, polyamorous, and atheist others. explores the ways they express tolerance for some sexual groups, such as lesbian and gay people, while maintaining condemnation of other sexual, gendered, or religious groups. In so doing, this book highlights the limits of Christian tolerance for the advancement of minority rights. 


Writers Sumerau and Cragun chose to study how religious people make sense of the increasing visibility of transgender, intersex, bi+, poly, and non-religiously unaffiliated individuals in their midst and it fills a void in the understanding of how traditional, established gender and religious norms shape civic life in the United States. The dominant narrative in the sociology of religion claims and lauds the limited acceptance of gay and lesbian people within Christendom, the authors show that beneath this “veneer of progress”, there is unchallenged disdain for those outside mono-, hetero- and “cisnormativities.” Through the use of ethnographic interviews, the contours of this intolerance come to light and describe how it is constructed and maintained.

For many years, sociologists of religion and sexuality faced problems asking what American Christians thought about homosexuality. As Sumerau and Cragun show us here, it’s time to ask new questions and they go into topics that are usually not included by fellow sociologists of religion. They explore the far reaches of American Christian assumptions that privilege monogamy, monosexuality, and cisgender reality and that leave out bisexual, nonbinary, and nonreligious people. This book is a necessity for the understanding of the complete landscape of religion and sexuality in America today.



What
Sumerau and Cragun have found has much to say about the ideological assumptions that still inform much social research on attitudes—that male and female are two mutually exclusive categories, that sexual orientation must reflect this dichotomy, that religion is the sole source of morality, and that being cisgender in lifelong monogamy is necessary to demonstrate it. They show that the stereotypes that used to trouble gays and lesbians (being immature, sick, and/or untrustworthy) have not gone away but have been displaced onto less conforming categories of people: bisexuals, trans people, polyamorous people, and atheists.

Table of Contents

Introduction: What God has joined together: Gender, Sexual, and Religious Intersections in America

  1. It Is God Who Works In You: Religious, Gendered, and Sexual Attitudes

  2. Male and Female He Created Them: Christianity as Cisnormativity
  3. 
3. And They Become One Flesh: Christianity as Mononormativity

  4. The Fool Says In His Heart: Christianity as Religio-Normativity
Conclusion: So Are My Ways Higher Than Your Ways: Normativity and Emerging Movements in America

“Because: A Lyric Memoir” by Joshua Mensch— A Memoir in Verse

Mensch, Joshua. “Because: A Lyric Memoir”, W.W. Norton, 2018.

A Memoir in Verse

Amos Lassen

Joshua Mensch gives us a devastating story written in verse about his experience with childhood sexual abuse. He explores the power of adults who prey on the children in their care. When Mensch is ten years old, he first meets Don, the charming director of a youth wilderness camp and a lifelong friend of his parents. What then follows is a harrowing account of sexual and psychological abuse, told from the evolving perspective of a child just entering adolescence. We read a series of scenes that present the changing and uncertain landscapes of childhood memory. This is a powerful story with complex characters that looks at the vulnerabilities and dangers of childhood.

We read of abuse, violations of trust and the deeply damaging effect of both of these. Here is a deeply personal poem in which Mensch uses language to tear down our defenses while at the same time he shares truth. As I read it, I moved back and forth between tears and laughter and I realized that Mensch was speaking directly to the shar3d experiences in our lives. These include “the desire to feel free, coming of age intellectually and sexually, and embarrassment at speaking of wrongful sexual encounters”. What we really get is the loss of a child and the birth of a poet—a “clear-eyed, humane look back at the horror of abuse”. We see the horrors of sex abuse through the eyes of a victim in precise, casual detail as we read the years-long, predatory relationship of a teacher and his student. We are witness to the devastation of the sexual acts themselves as well as the dance of seduction that the adult uses to lure the boy to him with promises of affection and belonging and knowledge.