Because is a narrative long poem that explores, with vividness and precision, the shifting and uncertain landscapes of childhood memory. Propelled by the powerful litany of the word “because,” Mensch’s poem builds a heartbreaking tale that is at once generous, empathetic, and unsparing. Unfolding through a series of precise, jewel-like scenes, Because bears witness to the author’s experience of an abuse that continued for many years. Unflinching and clear-eyed, Because explores the vulnerabilities and dangers of childhood in a way that succumbs neither to self-pity nor platitudes, but instead finds consolation in the healing power of its own narrative act.
Joshua Mensch is a poet, visual artist and a founding editor of the literary journal B O D Y. He grew up in Nova Scotia, Canada, and lives in Prague, Czech Republic. His first book, BECAUSE (W. W. Norton, 2018) was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General's Literary Award in poetry.
This book is haunting and has a dark memories of the writer. Although this was a very sad and heavy story (child abuse), I didn't like the lyric narrative of it. It just wasn't for me and I would rather have it in a traditional style. Still, I could not put it down because I wanted to know the end. Heartbreaking until the end!
A gripping book-length psychological poem, Joshua Mensch's Because is wholly persuasive and powerful in more ways than one. The reader feels the sense of protection but also claustrophobia and entrapment in the endless series of chambers or enclosures described by Mensch in these spirited lines. The poem’s pacing is handled superbly. I found I simply couldn’t look away from the scenes depicted because they were so precise and commanding. In these pages, traumatic emotional drama is harnessed to existential anxiety in a way that allows a sense of story to emerge and carry the reader forward. Perhaps what is most remarkable about the poem is the sense it gives of constant forward motion. It is as if one is running through or away from the events described, all the while experiencing a concurrent impression of being trapped endlessly in the same situation or drawn back again inevitably to it, of both racing and stasis. That really is something. The poem is incredibly visceral without ever becoming lurid. As for its narrative qualities, it reads like a novella, its forward energy deriving not only from the poetry but from disclosures, dispositions, and disenchantments. Lines like “nearing the end / of his ability to / maintain the civility of his fiction” sound wonderful, mean much, and remain in the mind long after the poem has ended.
There’s no disputing Mensch’s bravery in tackling the five-year relationship he had with Don, a male family friend, starting when he was 10 years old. This was no simple case of pedophilia; it was consensual. Mensch was proud of being Don’s favorite camper and homeschool student, and even if he was sometimes merely tolerant of rather than enthusiastic about the sexual stuff, he did still go along with it, and on the multiple occasions when he had the chance to rat Don out he chose to protect him instead. Only five years later, when Don had been arrested and was awaiting extradition back to Canada, did Mensch finally come clean about things. “Which one is it? You were his lover or you / were abused?; because both things can’t be true” was his older sister’s response. It’s a contradiction that will trouble many readers. I was reminded of Tiger, Tiger by Margaux Fragoso, where there’s a similar dynamic at work.
However, I was fundamentally unconvinced by the form of this book: an extended, multi-part poem in whose long central section all the clauses begin with “Because.” I think the idea is to offer fragmentary attempts to explain what will still, to most people, remain inexplicable. It’s a chronological confession of sorts, and Mensch alternates between the first person and the second person. There are no particular poetic techniques used apart from the occasional spot of alliteration, so I have a hard time seeing why the author chose to write in verse at all. A spare memoir could have accomplished the same thing.
Because is a true story told in verse about the author's experience being the victim of child abuse for several years starting at the age of ten. I was disgusted to see how prevalent child abuse was in this child's life and the lives of many others he was acquainted with and not just from the main aggressor but older women and the other children preying upon one another. It was such a haunting and bizarre experience to read about.
I think writing in verse appears easier than it actually is. It may seem like cutting out much of the story and telling only the bare bones but at the end of the book you realize what a large picture the narrative built and was able to do so with so few words. So, I think it's actually the opposite of easy to tell the story in this format. Especially when it's such a hard story to share. I think it took an amazing amount of bravery on the author's part to share such a story without holding back some of the more embarrassing and vulnerable details.
I can't forgive the parents in this case. They heard things and quizzed their child to find out if he was being abused by this man and since the child denied it the parents continued allowing the relationship in which they would send their son to a remote location alone or with other boys with this predator. As a parent one inkling, one word, insinuating that this man could be abusing children should have been enough for them to cut that relationship off. There is no excuse.
I think I would have given this book more stars if the storyline was a bit more clear. The gist of what the author is trying to get across is very clear but I felt something was lost in the format even if I still believe my original thoughts on the format to be true.
I can't say whether I recommend this book or not. In all honestly I was originally drawn in by the cover and didn't really know what I was getting myself into. Upon reading this story I don't feel that I got anything positive from the experience. Maybe if you're a person who could relate to this story in some way, in which case I'm very saddened to hear that, then this book could serve as comfort for you.
This is a beautiful, heartbreaking book. An unflinching portrayal of traumatic events that is ultimately affirming. A sharp rendering of the complex emotions and power exchanges of a relationship with a mentor/monster who both helped and harmed. By telling this story, writing this book, the narrator liberates himself from Don's grasp and at the same time proves himself. Because is a cathartic triumph, an important contribution to current conversations, and a compelling declaration of faith for the regenerative powers of art.
Once I started this book, I couldn't put it down. These are the experiences that authors should have the courage to write and bring awareness to. The subject of abuse is a tough one to swallow for many, but the more it is talked about, I would hope that more people will be able to recognize it and fight against it. So much thanks and respect to Joshua Mensch for writing this beautiful piece of poetry.
Powerful, insistent, even obsessive in its pursuit, not of the reasons why this abuse happened (it happened "because"), but of the spaces and images surrounding the abuse, as engines of memory ("because the room was..."). The author remembers these harrowing events "because" of the precision of the images, and through them he perhaps finds release and freedom. Beautifully done.
I absolutely adore Because. Its heavy themes, conveyed in wonderfully original poetic language, stabbed right through me. I read this in one go on a sleepless night, with no expectations, and felt beautifully disoriented after. Definitely one of my favourite poetry books!
Seldom are we given the chance to view so clearly, through the eyes of a victim, the everyday horrors of child sexual abuse. Mensch chronicles, in precise, casual detail, the years-long, predatory relationship of a teacher and his student. Readers witness the devastation of the sexual acts themselves but also yearning's seductive, venomous dance as the adult lures the boy with promises of affection and belonging, with the untamed wilderness, with the glittering prize of knowledge itself. I've never read a book I found more brave or harshly beautiful than this book, particularly as it exposes a male victim so thoroughly, so profoundly, as its speaker steps forward, into a world not altogether open to him, and says, Me, too. BECAUSE took real courage to write. It is well worth summoning the courage it takes to read it.
Wow. This is a beautiful book about a terrible subject. Joshua Mensch, using a lengthy lyric essay, explores his childhood history of sexual abuse at the hands of a man named Don. The cavalcade of emotions that come from a trusted friend convincing Mensch that what's happening is not abuse, but a form of love or care, is thoroughly catalogued in poignant detail, using a series of places and dates to frame the story. This was a tough read at times, as Mensch does not shy away from graphic details - but these serve to make the collection more powerful, as the seriousness of the situation is juxtaposed with pleasant details from his childhood.
If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, this volume might be triggering.
I received access to this title via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I had this book for a while first. I hesitated; it's been a haunting year. Once I started reading, I couldn't stop. It is brutal and honest and devastating and beautiful and profound. It needed to be read.
A haunting, poetic, unsettling memoir of years the author spent under the influence of his father's best friend, Don. Mensch describes, with as much chronology as he can, moments of his life where he felt any number of conflicting emotions regarding this relationship. Simultaneously unfettered and kept, curious and aberrant, loved and taken advantage of, this is not a memoir that deals in absolutes. The discomfort of being in the grey area is exactly what makes this memoir so compelling.
This swept me right up and left me feeling a bit disoriented and heartbroken. I just couldn’t put this book down. My first thought after finishing was how much bravery this man had to be this blunt, casual and open about his experience and my second thought was that I hope writing this healed him in some way.
That was very hard to read, since the author is talking about the sexual abuse that he suffered at the hands of his father's friend. It made me feel so many things and the writing was beautiful regardless of the hard subject matter.
BECAUSE made me tremble when I first started reading it, and after I finished I carried the narrative around in my clenched gut for days. It's rare to see a memoir so unflinching, so devoid of self-pity while it explores a childhood trauma, and this makes it even more emotionally powerful a document.
Because was a haunting, dark memoir with beautiful writing. I picked it up after it won a book award and I had read a snippet that I loved, so I ordered it from the library. I immediately got sucked into the twisted story and felt so bad for the boy. Don was horrifying. It it poetry, yet it had such an intriguing and devastating plot.
-Beautiful, lyrical writing that flowed so well. It was easy to read and made sense. It was direct yet also so filled with emotion. I loved it. The word “because” was used so well.
-I loved the format.
-Great length. Short but to the point and with perfect pacing.
-The main character was so realistic and I felt incredibly bad for him. I just wanted him to be happy and realize what was going on. The poor author. I’m glad he told his story and I hope he finds healing.
-I loved all the other characters, especially their reactions.
-I loved the personal journey the boy went on, sexually and emotionally and biologically. It was a hazy, uncomfortable journey through life, yet it was portrayed with such particular care.
-Very few cons. A few sentences or poems here and there that I didn’t get, but they took nothing away from the story. Also, I guess, there was one note throughout the story, but that can be common with poetry.
Overall, Because was a sad, graphic, harrowing book. But it was also honest, emotional, interesting, and heartfelt. I loved it, and would read more like this—from this author or from others.
First and foremost, I have to say how incredibly brave Joshua Mensch is for telling his story. As a victim of childhood abuse myself, I couldn't fathom telling my story in such detail for the world to read. Through this book, he displays his strength to overcome the demons he had to face as a child. This book is beautifully written and provides insight into the mind of victims of childhood sexual abuse. It is an example of hope for those of us who have not gathered the courage and strength to tell our own story.
Because, by Joshua Mensch, is a devastating and beautiful lyric memoir. I can’t recall why I picked it up to read, but I’m so glad I did. It was rough going because of the subject matter (childhood sexual abuse) but the language, its incantation and repetition and just plain brilliance is so well suited to how memory and trauma work that the writer’s work (processing the devastation, and crafting language to approximate it) pulled me through.
If you have a history of sexual abuse, you might only want to read this book if you feel sturdy in your recovery. I’m sure it could be very triggering. But I also found it very healing to read.
I don't know how I can say I liked this book at all. It's the detailed telling of child sexual abuse over a 5 year period by an adult male friend of the family. I can say I was horrified, sickened, disturbed and bothered, which means I was emotionally engaged in Joshua's story. The lyric style was apparently the way Joshua found that would help him tell his story, so I say whatever style you choose, it's going to be a brutal story. May his abuser, Don, and others like him, rot in hell.
This is the first lyric memoir i have read. I personally don't care for the style. The substance was like a train wreck. It's terrible, but you cant look away. For my preference i wish this had been written in a more traditional style, and more in depth. I find myself fascinated and repulsed all at the same time. Giveaway win
I’ve never read something this gut-wrenching. The writing is so beautiful while still so manipulative. You feel comfort in the way he describes scenery and the simple items in the cabin like books or dried lavender hanging from the ceiling. Then you feel totally violated with what the author endured. It’s brilliant in the way of using your emotions while also being brutal.