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