Consent: A Memoir

Consent, Jill Ciment's 10th book, is a frank reexamination of the central relationship of her life--one that would be viewed differently if it began today. In early 1970, Ciment met her husband, Arnold Mesches, when she was a 16-year-old student in his life drawing class. Forty-seven and married, he had a daughter Ciment's age. Despite that unpromising start, the pair spent 45 years together--she a novelist, he a painter--mostly living in Manhattan and Florida, until Mesches's death at 93.

Layers of recollection and interpretation construct a fascinating interrogation of personal history. Ciment (Act of God) achieves this via close readings of scenes from her previous memoir, Half a Life, such as one describing the first kiss between the two. In this scene, Ciment wrote that she kissed Mesches first, yet memory tells her that he initiated the kiss. Why the discrepancy? "There is empowerment in remembering oneself as the sexual aggressor..." she theorizes. "But I don't believe that was my motivation." Ciment also notes that the age of consent in California is 18; making herself the seducer precluded Arnold being labeled a predator. Her brother's molestation by a family friend provides a striking counterpoint.

Was she a "Me Too," a victim? Ciment asks. The strata of perspectives complicate the matter: "the agonized teenager," "the forty-four-year-old memoirist," "and me, the one who knows how the story ends." Ultimately, Ciment depicts her and Arnold's as a love story. By today's mores, the relationship remains troubling, but her bravery in confronting it is to be commended. The author's grappling with memory and nuance gives this memoir bite. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Powered by: Xtenit